Seven Indonesian sailors kidnapped in Philippines by gunmen

Soldiers standing guard at a military checkpoint on the volatile island of Sulu, southern Philippines.
Soldiers standing guard at a military checkpoint on the volatile island of Sulu, southern Philippines.PHOTO: EPA

JAKARTA -  Seven Indonesian sailors have been taken hostage by gunmen believed to be Abu Sayyaf militants in the Sulu Sea, in the third such abduction of Indonesians in recent months.

The Abu Sayyaf, notorious for kidnapping people to extort millions of dollars in ransom, in April abducted a group of Malaysian sailors in the same waters, releasing them early this month.

The Indonesians kidnapped on Monday were part of a crew of 13 manning the tugboat Charles 001, which was towing a barge called Robby 152.
The kidnapping by two different groups of gunmen took place in two phases, at 11.30am and 12.45pm local time, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told reporters.

"After carrying out intensive communication, coordination and verification  with a number of parties, from Indonesia and the Philippines, we received confirmation on the evening of June 23 that Indonesian sailors have been taken hostage," she said.

Six other crew members have been released, along with their tugboat and barge, she said. 

Foreign Ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir said the crew have arrived in Samarinda, capital of East Kalimantan.

"The Indonesian government strongly condemn the repeat of abduction of Indonesians by armed groups in southern Philippines. This third incident cannot be tolerated," Ms Retno said.

The Indonesian government will explore all possible ways to rescue the hostages, and call on the Philippine government to ensure the security in the waters around southern Philippines so that economic activities in the area are not affected.

Abu Sayyaf militants had abducted 10 Indonesian sailors on March 29, and another four on April 15. All have been released in May.

The Abu Sayyaf was formed by disgruntled Moro Islamic fighters in 1991 with funding from Al-Qaeda.

It is known for extortions, kidnappings, beheadings and bombings and is now loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group.

This latest incident comes just days after Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines on Monday agreed to designate a transit corridor for commercial vessels in the seas between Sabah, the southern Philippines and Indonesia’s Sulawesi Island, aimed at curbing the abductions by the Abu Sayyaf.

aarlina@sph.com.sg