Southern Philippine waters not a new Somalia: Govt

Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay gestures during an interview in Manila, on July 8, 2016.
Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay gestures during an interview in Manila, on July 8, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

MANILA (AFP) - The Philippines denied Friday (July 8) that piracy in its waters bordering Indonesia and Malaysia had reached Somalian levels, after a recent spate of kidnappings of South-east Asian sailors.

Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay said the situation in the southern Philippines was much more stable than in and around the African nation, where multinational military coalitions have worked together to quell rampant maritime piracy.

"The conditions in Somalia are not similar to the conditions here in the southern Philippines," Yasay told AFP in an interview.

"We have effective governments that are in full control."

His comments came after armed men suspected to be from the Abu Sayyaf kidnap-for-ransom group this year abducted 25 Indonesian and Malaysian sailors in the Sulu Sea, a vital waterway off the southern Philippines.

The kidnapping spree prompted Indonesian Security Minister Luhut Panjaitan to warn in April that the region was in danger of becoming a "new Somalia".

In response to the third kidnapping of Indonesian sailors, Jakarta banned Indonesian-flagged vessels from sailing to the Philippines.

Yasay said he hoped an agreement on improved coordination with Indonesia and Malaysia, set to be completed in the coming months, would help prevent kidnappings.

The three nations have agreed on joint patrols and to consider a joint corridor which would serve as a designated sea lane.

"We are dealing here with criminals who have taken advantage of the geographical and topographical conditions in the place where they can just easily hide from one island to another," Yasay said.

The Abu Sayyaf is a loose network of a few hundred Islamic militants that was 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 Philippine military has said it believes the Abu Sayyaf holds hostages in the remote Sulu archipelago, the group's main stronghold.

The Abu Sayyaf also kidnapped two Canadians and a Norwegian man from a southern Philippine marina in September last year. The Canadian men were beheaded in April and June after demands for multi-million-dollar ransoms were not met.

The Norwegian is still being held.

After assuming office on June 30, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the Philippine military to neutralise the Abu Sayyaf. But similar demands from previous Philippine leaders went unfulfilled.