Indonesia: 10 Sailors Safe; Union Calls for Guards on Boats

Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata
160502_ID_freedsailors_1000.jpg Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi greets the freed sailors freed in the ministry office in Jakarta before they are returned to their families, May 2, 2016.
Media Information, Indonesian Foreign Ministry

A day after Abu Sayyaf militants freed 10 Indonesian sailors from captivity, the Indonesian Seafarers Union leader called for ships to hire armed guards to protect them against piracy in busy sea lanes linking their nation with the Philippines and Malaysia.

“It’s better to provide armed guards on board, but they should be listed as crew and the company of the ship owner must pay for it,” union chairman Hanafi Rustandi told BenarNews on Monday.

Indonesia Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, who greeted the freed sailors at her office in Jakarta on Monday, said no ransom had been paid to secure the sailors’ release and that it occurred because the government instituted a total diplomatic strategy.

“The release is a long process, the situation in the field is also very dynamic with a very high complication level,” Retno said.

Retno said the government was working to free four other sailors who were snatched from the Indonesian tugboat “Cristi” as it sailed near the maritime boundary between Malaysia and the Philippines on April 15.

“The government will see all the possible options to free the four Indonesian citizens. We monitor the location of them from time to time,” she said.

Meanwhile, Hanafi of the sailors’ union called for tugboats to be manned with armed guards, because of their small crews. He also called on shipping companies to insure crew members.

“Companies have to pay for insurance. Moreover these are dangerous waters, if necessary, they must also provide insurance for the crews’ families,” he said.

He said he hoped that these concerns by the union would be discussed during a trilateral maritime security meeting between Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines scheduled for Thursday in Jakarta.

The meeting will bring together the foreign ministers and military chiefs of the three countries. Officials intend to ensure that cooperation and economic activity among the three countries are not disturbed by militants based in the southern Philippines, according to Arrmanatha Nasir, a spokesman for Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry.

Crew members healthy

The 10 crew members arrived at the Jakarta Halim Perdanakusuma Air Base at 11:30 p.m. Sunday. They were taken to a military hospital in Jakarta for a medical examination, where they were reported to be healthy.

Crew member Peter Tonsen said he and the nine others were not harmed even though Abu Sayyaf occasionally threatened them if a ransom was not paid.

“We slept on palm leaves under the open sky, just like them,” he told reporters on Monday in Jakarta.

Another crew member, Wendi Rakhdian, said they ate the same food as their captors.

His family rejoiced over news of his freedom.

“We are very happy, very excited. When he arrives home, we will make a celebration for him,” Wendi’s mother, Asmizar, told BenarNews from her home in Padang, West Sumatra. “It is up to him if he wants to go sailing again. If not, it is fine too. He’s been sailing for three years.”

Her husband, Aidil, could not hide his excitement. He said he learned about Wendi’s release from the shipping company on Sunday afternoon.

“Now we are waiting because we still have no detailed information when my son will be sent home. If we must go to Jakarta to pick him up, we are ready to as we cannot wait to see him,” Aidil said.

Sutomo, the father of crew member Bayu Oktavianto, said he heard the news on TV, and two hour later, around 4 p.m. Sunday, the shipping company called him confirming his son’s release.

"That made me feel sure," Sutomo told BenarNews from his home in Klaten, Central Java. "Previously I was concerned after learning the hostage from Canada was killed."

The shipping company thanked those involved in securing the release.

“We are grateful our employees can return to Indonesia safely and hopefully can soon gather with their families. On behalf of our company, we thank all the parties for the diplomacy and moral support,” said Loudy Irwanto Ellias, representing the company.


Hanafi Rustandi does not know whether the crew members were released because a ransom of 50 million pesos (U.S. $1.07 million) demanded by Abu Sayyaf was paid.

But former Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri offered her own take to reporters in Jakarta.

“Obviously, the hostages were released because the ransom was paid,” Magawati said, according to Indonesian media.

However, Coordinating Minister for Political, Law and Security Affairs Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan told reporters at the presidential palace on Monday that the government remained committed to a policy of not paying ransom for hostages. On April 19, he said the company employing the hostages snatched on March 26 had agreed to pay for their release.

In the Philippines, Abu Sayyaf holds four Malaysians and citizens from Canada, Norway, the Netherlands, and China as well as seven from the Philippines.  Last week, the militant group executed a Canadian it had held since September 2015 after its ransom demand was not met.

Kusumasari Ayuningtyas in Central Java and Sulthan Azzam in West Sumatra contributed to this story.


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