Indonesia: 2 Kidnapped Sailors Escape from Abu Sayyaf

Tia Asmara and Gunawan
Jakarta and Balikpapan
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160817-ID-tanker-620.jpg Philippine policemen escort Indonesian national Muhamad Sofyan from a hospital in Jolo town after he escaped from the Abu Sayyaf Group, Aug. 17, 2016.

Two Indonesian sailors escaped from Abu Sayyaf militants in the southern Philippines who had held them and others hostage for nearly two months after hijacking their tugboat, Indonesian and Philippine officials confirmed Wednesday.

Elsewhere, the crew of a fuel tanker sailed from Malaysia to Indonesia’s Batam Island on Wednesday over a dispute with their employer, Malaysian and Indonesian officials said.

Muhamad Sofyan, one of seven crew members of the tugboat Charles 001, had fled from his Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) captors, Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs official Lalu Muhammad Iqbal told reporters in Jakarta.

“At 1 p.m. today, the Indonesian Foreign Minister communicated with the Philippine Foreign Minister and received confirmation about the escape of that one hostage,” he said, adding that Sofyan was taken to the Sulu police station.

Locals found Sofyan, 28, around 7:30 a.m., according to the Philippines police. He apparently escaped from the Abu Sayyaf after the group threatened to behead him.

Sofyan had swum to safety and was rescued by residents of the southern Philippine island of Jolo, who found him trapped in fishnets in a mangrove, according to the Associated Press, who quoted Maj. Filemon Tan, a spokesman for the Western Mindanao Command.

At 4:30 p.m., Tan said, another crew member from the tugboat, identified as Ismail, was found in Barangay Bual, the same area in the southern Philippines where Sofyan was found, according to CNN.

The escapees were two of seven Indonesians taken hostage from the Tugboat Charles on June 20, in waters between Jolo and Tawi Tawi.  On July 9, three more Indonesians were kidnapped from a Malaysian-flagged ship near Sabah, Malaysia, by Abu Sayyaf militants. And on Aug. 3, an Indonesian captain on another Malaysian-flagged ship was kidnapped by four armed men near Sabah. Four Malaysian sailors, whose vessel was hijacked off Sabah in July 18, also remain in ASG custody.

The crew of the MT Vier Harmoni, pictured in this undated photo, sailed from Malaysia to Batam Island over a dispute with their employer, Aug. 17, 2016. [Courtesy of Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency]

Tanker crew sailed from Kuantan Port

Meanwhile, the 10-member crew of a tanker carrying 900,000 liters (237,000 gallons) of diesel fuel left Kuantan Port, Malaysia, and sailed into Indonesian waters over a dispute with their employer, a top Malaysian maritime official confirmed to BenarNews on Wednesday. The crew of MT Vier Harmoni deliberately took the ship over the dispute, said Malaysian Maritime Agency (MMEA) Director General Ahmad Puzi Ab Kahar.

The Indonesian navy confirmed this report.“[T]he ship was not hijacked but was taken by its crew back to Batam,” First Adm. Edi Sucipto told BenarNews in a written statement.

Sucipto praised the coordination between the Indonesia navy’s Western Fleet Quick Response, in the province of Riau, and the MMEA. Malaysia deployed ships and a helicopter in its search for the tanker. Singapore assisted in the efforts in Malaysian and Indonesian waters.

The MMEA stopped its search for MT Vier Harmoni midday Wednesday when its Indonesian counterpart confirmed that the tanker was anchored off Batam, Ahmad Puzi said.

Officials communicated with the crew members, who are mostly Indonesians, and determined that the ship had not been hijacked. Indonesian officials confirmed that the ship is owned by PT Vierlines, an Indonesian company, and was chartered by a Malaysian company.

Ahmad Puzi said the owner had not made bond payments to the Malaysian authorities to allow the ship to sail in its waters. Bond payments are necessary to ensure that ships be held accountable for incidents such as oil spills.

“We are still investigating this incident thoroughly and hope both sides cooperate so further action can be taken,” he said.

The agency’s enforcement director, Mohammad Taha Ibrahim, said all 10 crew members were safe when the agency contacted the ship’s captain Wednesday afternoon.

Hata Wahari in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.


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