4 Indonesian sailors held hostage by militants in the Philippines released

Indonesian President Joko Widodo (centre), Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi (left) and Military Chief Gatot Nurmantyo during a press conference at the presidential palace in Jakarta, Indonesia on May 11, 2016.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo (centre), Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi (left) and Military Chief Gatot Nurmantyo during a press conference at the presidential palace in Jakarta, Indonesia on May 11, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

A brutal Islamist militant group in the Philippines' deep south on Wednesday (May 11) released four Indonesian sailors seized on the high seas off the east coast of Malaysia's Sabah state on April 15.

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo announced the freeing of the four at Jakarta's presidential palace, according to Reuters. He added that the sailors were in good health.

In a statement, the Philippine military's spokesman, Brigadier-General Restitution Padilla, said Sulu provincial officials turned over the hostages to a task force hunting the notorious Abu Sayyaf group at 2pm.

"Arrangements are now being finalised for the handover of the Indonesian nationals to the Indonesian authorities," said Brig-Gen Padilla.

The four - Moch Ariyanto Misnan, Lorens MPS, Dede Irfan Hilmi and Samsir - were taken by gunmen believed to be from the Abu Sayyaf from a tugboat ferrying coal from Cebu province in the central Philippines back to Tarakan in Borneo Island in Indonesia.

Six other seamen managed to escape. One of them was shot.

Philippine Foreign Minister Albert del Rosario said: "We thank the Indonesian government, particularly Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, for the very close coordination since this morning. We thank the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Indonesia for their coordination.

"This seamless coordination was achieved because of the trilateral meeting in Yogyakarta, Indonesia of the Foreign Ministers of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, as well as the Armed Forces of the three countries to combat these criminal activities."

The Philippine Daily Inquirer quoted Superintendent Junpikar Sittin, police chief of Jolo town, Sulu, as saying that 50 million pesos (S$1.46 million) in ransom was paid after negotiations.

The four Indonesians were freed 10 days after the Abu Sayyaf released 10 other Indonesians they snatched off waters near the Malaysian border late in March.

A week prior to that, Abu Sayyaf bandits beheaded Canadian John Ridsdel 68, a former mining executive and journalist.

His head was found in a bag hours after he was killed, and a torso was discovered two days later.

The Abu Sayyaf is still holding four Malaysians, another Canadian, a Norwegian, and a Filipino woman.