Jakarta calls for more cooperation to tackle piracy

A member of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Force helping an Indonesian sailor who was shot while trying to resist capture by pirates, after the tugboat he was in was attacked in the South China Sea.
A member of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Force helping an Indonesian sailor who was shot while trying to resist capture by pirates, after the tugboat he was in was attacked in the South China Sea.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

4 sailors kidnapped in second case involving Indonesia-flagged vessels in as many weeks

Jakarta is calling for greater regional cooperation to tackle the surge in piracy, after a second Indonesian boatcrew was taken hostage in as many weeks in the South China Sea.

Pirates, believed to be linked to Abu Sayyaf militants, struck again on Friday morning, taking four Indonesian sailors hostage.

The four men were part of a crew of 10 manning the tugboat TB Henry, which was towing a barge called Christi. They were en route to Tarakan, North Kalimantan, after unloading 8,000 tonnes of coal in the Philippine island of Cebu.

The hostage-takers did not manage to seize the tugboat or the barge, but a member of the crew was shot in the chest by one of the pirates after trying to resist capture.

The sailor who was wounded and the remaining five crewmen escaped and were rescued by Malaysian maritime police.

This is the third reported incident of piracy in just over two weeks involving a tugboat and barge formation and the second involving Indonesia- flagged vessels. Abu Sayyaf militants had abducted 10 Indonesians from the tugboats Brahma 12 and barge Anand 12 some time around March 29, and demanded more than US$1 million (S$1.36 million) for their release.

All six were taken to the Port of Lahad Datu in Sabah, said a spokesman from Indonesia's Foreign Affairs Ministry. "Despite having suffered gunshot wounds, (the sailor who was shot) is in stable condition," he said.

He added that his ministry is working with owners of the vessels as well as the authorities in Malaysia and the Philippines, as the incident occurred in waters that border the two countries.

"The Indonesian government will take steps to address this frequent occurrence of piracy in the region," he said. "Indonesia will also ask that neighbouring countries step up security."

Indonesia armed forces chief General Gatot Nurmantyo yesterday deployed two battleships to patrol the border areas.

This is the third reported incident of piracy in just over two weeks involving a tugboat and barge formation, and the second involving Indonesia-flagged vessels.

Abu Sayyaf militants had abducted 10 Indonesians from the tugboat Brahma 12 and barge Anand 12 some time around March 29, and demanded more than US$1 million (S$1.36 million) for their release.

The Philippine militant group also took the MV Massive 6 tugboat and its crew of nine hostage on April 1 while it was en route from Tawau in Sabah, Malaysia, to Samarinda in East Kalimantan.

Three Indonesians and two Myanmar nationals from the MV Massive 6 have been released, but the remaining four Malaysians are still being held and are believed to be in the Abu Sayyaf stronghold of Mindanao in southern Philippines.

The Abu Sayyaf, formed in 1991, is known for extortion, kidnapping, beheadings and bombings.

Security analysts say the Abu Sayyaf has been reported to be haggling for ransom, even extending deadlines for payments, such as in the recent case involving the two Canadians, a Norwegian and a Filipino kidnapped last September.

This, coupled with the increase in hostage-taking incidents in recent weeks, may indicate that they are trying to raise more funding.

Mr Joseph Franco, an associate research fellow with the Centre of Excellence for National Security, said the Abu Sayyaf has always regarded kidnapping for ransom, or KFR, as a very lucrative endeavour.

He said while some may view such activities by the group as a "desperate bid", that conclusion fails to consider the long history of conflict and porous borders in the region. He also added that the surge in KFR activities could be "seasonal".

"Notice how it is happening now in the summer, when the weather and seas are more placid," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 17, 2016, with the headline 'Jakarta calls for more cooperation to tackle piracy'. Print Edition | Subscribe