Sea Kidnappings off Southern Philippines Escalated in 2016: Maritime Watchdog

BenarNews staff
170110-MY-ID-kidnappings-1000.jpg Indonesian kidnap victims Mohammad Nazer, left, and Robin Peter are treated at a hospital in Zamboanga, the Philippines, after being freed by Abu Sayyaf Group militants, Dec. 12, 2016.

Maritime kidnappings worldwide set a 10-year record in 2016 with an alarming increase in abductions from Indonesian and Malaysian vessels in the seas between Borneo and the southern Philippines, an international piracy watchdog said in a report published Tuesday.

There were more crew kidnappings at sea last year across the globe than at any time in the last decade, with 62 incidents overall, but nearly half, 28, took place off ships in the Sulu Sea and other waters off Borneo, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), whose Piracy Reporting Center is based in Kuala Lumpur.

The worldwide number of kidnapping incidents at sea in 2016 was more than three times the number in the previous year, 19, said the IMB, which noted, however, that global acts of piracy last year reached their lowest level in nearly two decades.

“The kidnappings in the Sulu Sea between East Malaysia and the Philippines are a particular concern,” said IMB director Pottengal Mukundan, whose organization has monitored world piracy since 1991.

“The continued fall in piracy is good news, but certain shipping routes remain dangerous, and the escalation of crew kidnapping is a worrying trend in some emerging areas,” he said.

The IMB report pointed to “an emerging threat to merchant shipping” in Sulu and Celebes seas, where 12 crew members were kidnapped from two general cargo ships and an anchored fishing boat in the last quarter of 2016.

“Crews had previously been kidnapped from ‘slow and low’ moving tugs and barges in three separate incidents in the first half of 2016. This marks a worrying escalation of crew kidnappings in the area,” the report said.

The IMB document did not mention a new case of eight Filipino fishermen whose bullet-ridden bodies were found in their outrigger boat in the Moro Gulf off the Zamboanga peninsula of southern Mindanao island, the Philippine military said Tuesday, according to Agence France-Presse.

Trilateral talks

Officials from the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia have blamed the recent kidnappings at sea on Filipino militants linked to the Abu Sayyaf Group, which is based in the southern Philippines.

Representatives of the three countries met several times in 2016 to establish a framework for maritime security cooperation, including joint patrols in their shared waters in the wake of a spate of kidnappings at sea.

Despite efforts to reach agreement, joint patrols involving the neighboring nations have not begun.

“I really hope we can do it in the near future,” Indonesian Armed Forces spokesman Brig. Gen. Wuryanto told BenarNews in November. “We feel a bit disgraced now [because] the kidnappings keep going on and on.”

Meanwhile, according to Malaysian officials, ASG is holding five Malaysian hostages who were kidnapped from waters off Lahad Datu in the eastern Malaysian state of Sabah on July 18, 2016.

In December, Malaysian security personnel killed three gunmen and captured two others during a shootout off Sabah. The shootout erupted as gunmen in a speedboat approached a Tiger Platoon vessel patrolling local waters after mistaking it for a ship they planned to hijack. The Tiger Platoon is a unit with the Malaysian police’s elite General Operations Force.

ASG also is holding two Indonesian sailors who were kidnapped on Nov. 20. The militant group kidnapped 27 Indonesians in 2016.

In March, 10 tugboat crew members were kidnapped and later freed on May 1. Four were kidnapped in April and freed on May 11 and seven were kidnapped in June with the last two being freed in December. Three were kidnapped in July and released in September as was a sailor who was kidnapped in August.

Azmi Hassan, a security analyst at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, told BenarNews that loose security enforcement in the Sulu Sea in southern Philippines allows ASG to hijack ships and carry out abductions, creating unsafe waters for merchant ships and others.

“Not only the Sulu Sea waters, but Philippines waters are uncontrolled and it is worse in the mainland of Mindanao which is uncontrollable by Manila,” he said Tuesday.

He praised the decision by the new Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte, to allow security forces from Malaysia and Indonesia to pursue pirates into Philippine waters, saying it showed Manila’s seriousness in curbing kidnappings.

Hata Wahari in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.


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