Joanne Ingham's ex wants his sons.

He fell in love with a celebrated stowaway, who converted to Islam to marry him, but had his heart broken when she left with their children. Now the Malaysian fisherman Hanafi Salleh says he is trying to re-establish ties with the children he shared with Joanne Ingham.

"I'm still the father and I'm still alive," he said. "I have to take care of my kids. I miss them so much."

Salleh and Ingham, one of the notorious Ingham twins, married in 1999 and lived happily together for five years. The tearaway teenager from New Zealand became a devoted Muslim wife, but in 2004 she brought the children back to New Zealand on holiday and never returned.

Now Salleh says that he misses his children and wants to have a bigger role in their lives.


He wants to take the boys back to Malaysia, where they were born.

Salleh, 32, said the past seven years had been "heart-breaking" and he wasn't sure if he would ever see his children again.

Salleh tried to contact his former wife, but she changed her phone number and moved.

For seven years, Salleh has missed the children while dreaming of the time he will be with them again.

He began saving to come to New Zealand and visit his children and spent time with them in July this year.

"I never stopped praying that one day I would see my kids again," he said from his home in Malaysia.

During three days spent together, Salleh met his sons' teachers and watched them play soccer.

He thinks one of his sons might be a football player. "He's very good. Maybe one day he will be in the Malaysia or New Zealand team. The other son is also very good."


His sons told him they wanted to go back to Malaysia, where they were born, and live with Salleh, his second wife and his 4-year-old daughter, Salleh said.

The boys were living together, but no longer with Ingham.

Salleh had received updates on their living arrangements, as well as photos, cards and letters from his sons.

Ingham has never been far from controversy since she stowed away on a Malaysian container ship with her twin sister Sarah in 1997. The sisters made worldwide headlines when they swam through shark- and crocodile-infested waters after jumping overboard off the Queensland coast.

When contacted yesterday, Ingham said she was surprised to hear from Salleh. "What a joke. He hasn't had anything to do with my kids."

Ingham, who has a string of convictions, last appeared in court in July 2011 when she was fined $150 for stealing $160 worth of tobacco from a Wellington supermarket.