Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines Vow to Combat Sea Piracy Together

Kusumasari Ayuningtyas
Yogyakarta, Indonesia
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160505_ID_foreignministers_1000a.jpg Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi (center) and Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Jose Rene D. Almendras (right) listen to Malaysian counterpart Anifah Aman during a trilateral meeting on regional maritime security in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, May 5, 2016.

Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines agreed Thursday to a four-point plan for stopping hijackings and kidnappings in busy sea lanes surrounding their countries by establishing three-way hotlines and coordinating maritime patrols, among other measures.

At the end of a one-day trilateral meeting in Yogyakarta the three neighbors pledged through a joint declaration to implement immediate measures for staving off rising acts of piracy in the Celebes and Sulu seas, including abductions by Islamic militants based in the southern Philippines.

“We expect that the cooperation of the three countries can solve the problem,” Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo told the trilateral meeting, hosted by Indonesia.

At least four Indonesian sailors and four Malaysian sailors who were recently kidnapped off ships sailing in those waters remain in captivity at the hands of militant groups. The four Malaysians were being held by the Abu Sayyaf Group, but the Indonesians were hostages of a different group, Jokowi said, according to a news release issued by his cabinet.

“For sure, we already know the location, we already know in which island [the four Indonesians are being held hostage], but again, the faction is different from the other one,” Jokowi said without disclosing the location, but adding that his government was building lines of communication to secure their release.

Thursday’s meeting took place four days after 10 Indonesian sailors were freed from Abu Sayyaf custody after being kidnapped off their ship last month. But the meeting took on greater urgency after Abu Sayyaf last week executed a Canadian hostage and as the Philippines responded with a military offensive against the group.

Meanwhile, Malaysian officials said Thursday they were expanding their search at sea for four passengers of a boat declared missing Monday off the eastern state of Sabah.

The search for the missing four – a Malaysian, two Spaniards and a Chinese national – expanded  to an area off the town of Kudat covering 3,600 square nautical miles, said First Admiral Mohd Zubil Mat Som who directs the Sabah and Labuan office of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency.

A learning experience: Indonesian foreign minister

The foreign ministers and military chiefs of the three countries attended the meeting in Yogyakarta.

“We learned from the intensive cooperation and communication of the three countries in the effort to release the 10 Indonesian crew members who were taken hostage,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told a news conference following the meeting.

“This meeting proves the level of commitment of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines to ensure peace, stability, and security in the region.”

Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman and Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Jose Rene D. Almendras, who stood alongside their Indonesian counterpart, echoed her words.

“Malaysia is committed to take all necessary steps to resolve this problem through cooperation with Indonesia and the Philippines,” Aman told reporters.

The joint declaration recognized “the growing security challenges, such as those arising from armed robbery against ships, kidnapping, transnational crimes, and terrorism in the region” – particularly in the seas separating the three countries.

The three governments also “deplored the abduction of innocent civilians by armed groups in the vicinity” that have included nationals of the three countries.

“In this context, they underscored the importance of protecting the lives, well-being, and rights of their nationals in accordance with international laws, and respective domestic laws and regulations,” the declaration said.

Late last month, Luhut Binsar Panjaitan, Indonesia’s coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, warned that the waters off the southern Philippines could become “the new Somalia” unless three countries cooperated through joint security measures such as coordinated maritime patrols.

At Thursday’s news conference, Retno highlighted the economic importance of the three countries working together to safeguard the sea lanes. Fifty-five million metric tons of goods and more than 18 million people pass annually along routes in the Sulu and Celebes seas, reports quoted her as saying.

The declaration went on to say that the governments also “expressed concerns that these security challenges also undermine the confidence in trade and commerce, particularly the movement of commercial shipping, goods, and people, in the maritime areas of common concern … which in turn can adversely affect the economic activities and welfare of peoples in the surrounding areas.”

The document did not specify when the three neighbors would mount joint patrols or set up hotlines to facilitate three-way communication in emergencies or hijackings at sea.

But the neighbors agreed to share intelligence and information through a “focal point” and “render immediate assistance for the safety of people and ships in distress within the maritime areas of common concern,” according to the declaration.

Hata Wahiri in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.


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