MANILA (AFP) - Suspected Islamist militants kidnapped the captain and a Filipino crew member on a South Korean cargo ship in the southern Philippines, the military said on Friday (Oct 21).
Ten people, who reportedly identified themselves as militants from the extremist Abu Sayyaf group, boarded a South Korean-flagged cargo ship on Thursday (Oct 20) and abducted its captain, described by the Philippine military as "Korean", as well as a local crewman.
"They identified themselves as Abu Sayyaf Group members.... We're looking into this," regional military command spokesman Major Filemon Tan told the ABS CBN television channel.
The ship, a heavy load carrier called Dong Bang Giant 2, was en route to South Korea from Australia when it was attacked.
The 11,400-tonne vessel was allowed to continue on its course after the abductions, Maj Tan said, adding that authorities had interviewed witnesses on board, with the military now in "hot pursuit" of the kidnappers.
Maj Tan said Thursday's abduction marked the first time that kidnappers in the area have 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 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 also beheaded two Canadian hostages and released a Norwegian man along with a number of Indonesian and Malaysian sailors.
Military sources say the militants are still holding a Dutch hostage, five Malaysians, two Indonesians and four Filipinos in their jungle stronghold in the southern Philippines.
While its leaders have in recent years pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group, analysts say the Abu Sayyaf is mainly focused on a lucrative kidnapping business rather than religious ideology.