Jakarta, KL and Manila to start joint patrols in Sulu Sea

(From left) Malaysian Minister of Defense Hishammuddin Hussein, Indonesian Defense Minister General Ryamizard Ryacudu and Philippines Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana at the Third Trilateral Defence Minister Meeting in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia on
(From left) Malaysian Minister of Defense Hishammuddin Hussein, Indonesian Defense Minister General Ryamizard Ryacudu and Philippines Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana at the Third Trilateral Defence Minister Meeting in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia on Aug 2, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines will "immediately begin" coordinated joint sea patrols to fight maritime crime and terrorism in the piracy-prone Sulu Sea.

Indonesian Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu, his Malaysian counterpart Hishammuddin Hussein and the Philippines' Mr Delfin Lorenzana signed the pact during a two-day trilateral meeting on maritime security in Nusa Dua, Bali, which ended on Tuesday.

"This cooperation can immediately take effect because the agreement is there, the standard operating procedures are there, the arrangement has been established," Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir told reporters yesterday.

Under this naval cooperation, the militaries from the three countries are allowed to enter one another's waters to provide "immediate assistance" to boats in trouble, but this is limited only to emergency situations and there must be prior permission from the countries whose waters they are entering, he said.

The commitment comes on the heels of a series of abductions of dozens of Indonesian and Malaysian sailors this year, allegedly by Abu Sayyaf militants. While some crewmen have been released, 10 Indonesians and five Malaysians are still being held hostage by the group.

Mr Arrmanatha said the third trilateral ministerial gathering in Bali was meant to "add and strengthen" initiatives agreed on previously.

Besides the joint patrols, the defence ministers agreed to carry out regular military training exercises among their countries and install an identification system for boats sailing in Sulu waters so they can be tracked and monitored, he said.

Local media said Indonesia had proposed extending coordinated security operations into Philippine land territory to combat militants who have taken Indonesian and Malaysian sailors hostage.

Mr Wiranto, Indonesia's Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, conveyed the idea to Mr Ryamizard, who later delivered it to his Malaysian and Philippine counterparts, The Jakarta Post newspaper reported.

But Mr Arrmanatha said yesterday that the agreement for now is only for "cooperation in the maritime area of the three countries".

In May, the defence ministers met in Yogyakarta and agreed to conduct coordinated patrols in piracy-prone areas as well as set up crisis centres to better respond to emergencies in the Sulu and Sulawesi seas, which form a key waterway between Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 05, 2016, with the headline 'Jakarta, KL and Manila to start joint patrols in Sulu Sea'. Print Edition | Subscribe