Captain and crew member of South Korean ship abducted

MANILA • Suspected Islamist militants have kidnapped the captain and a Filipino crew member of a South Korean cargo ship in the southern Philippines, the military said.

Ten people, who reportedly identified themselves as militants from the extremist Abu Sayyaf group, boarded the cargo ship on Thursday and abducted its captain, described by the Philippine military as Korean, and a local crewman.

"They identified themselves as Abu Sayyaf group members... We're looking into this," regional military command spokesman Filemon Tan told the ABS CBN television channel yesterday.

The ship, a heavy load carrier called Dong Bang Giant 2, was en route to South Korea from Australia when it was attacked.

The vessel was allowed to continue on its course after the abductions, Major Tan said, adding the authorities had interviewed witnesses on board, and the military was in "hot pursuit" of the kidnappers.

He said the abduction marked the first time that kidnappers in the area had targeted a large ship, with previous attempts usually focusing on smaller vessels.

The Abu Sayyaf is a loose network of militants formed in the 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network, and it has earned millions of dollars from kidnappings for ransom.

The group began abducting sailors in border waters between Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines early this year, taking several dozen Indonesian and Malaysian hostages.

The militants have also beheaded two Canadian hostages and released a Norwegian man along with a number of Indonesian and Malaysian sailors. Military sources said the militants are still holding a Dutch hostage, five Malaysians, two Indonesians and four Filipinos in their jungle stronghold in southern Philippines.

While its leaders have in recent years pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, analysts said the Abu Sayyaf is mainly focused on a lucrative kidnapping business rather than religious ideology.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 22, 2016, with the headline 'Captain and crew member of South Korean ship abducted'. Print Edition | Subscribe