Abu Sayyaf frees 10 Indonesian seamen

Released Indonesian sailors who were held hostaged by the Abu Sayyaf islamist group, take a meal inside a military camp in Philippines, on May 1, 2016.
Released Indonesian sailors who were held hostaged by the Abu Sayyaf islamist group, take a meal inside a military camp in Philippines, on May 1, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

Ten Indonesian crewmen abducted in late March are heading home after Abu Sayyaf militants released them yesterday, days after a ransom is believed to have been paid.

The men were dropped off in front of the house of Sulu provincial governor Abdusakur Tan II in Jolo town yesterday. They had lunch at the governor's home before being taken to an army base.

"They appeared tired but were in high spirits," Jolo police chief Junpikar Sitin told Reuters.

The militants had demanded 50 million pesos (S$1.4 million) in ransom from the Indonesians' employer, Patria Maritime Lines.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, in a speech broadcast live on television, thanked the Philippine government and other parties for the outcome. He also said his government was working on the release of four other Indonesian seamen taken hostage in a separate incident.

The militants had abducted the 10 Indonesians from a tugboat and a barge, Anand 12, on March 29. They abandoned the tugboat but held the barge. The vessels were on their way to Batangas in the southern Philippines and were carrying more than 7,500 tonnes of coal.

The Indonesians were released six days after the Abu Sayyaf beheaded Canadian John Ridsdel, 68, a former mining executive and journalist. His head was found in a bag hours after he was killed, and his torso was discovered two days later.

The Abu Sayyaf had demanded 300 million pesos for Mr Ridsdel's release, but the talks reportedly went south after his family and friends managed to raise only 20 million pesos.

Mr Ridsdel was among four tourists taken from a high-end resort in Davao del Norte province on Sept 21 last year.

The Abu Sayyaf is still holding another Canadian, Mr Robert Hall, 50, Norwegian resort manager Kjartan Sekkingstad, 56, and a Filipina, Ms Marites Flor.

Four Malaysians, a Dutch national and a Japanese are also believed to be held by the Abu Sayyaf, known for kidnappings, beheadings, bombings and extortion.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino has said that he will use "the full might of the state" to "degrade" the Abu Sayyaf in his last two months in office.

Efforts to flush out the Abu Sayyaf have largely proven ineffective. In nearly all the abduction cases, hostages have been released only after ransoms were paid.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 02, 2016, with the headline 'Abu Sayyaf frees 10 Indonesian seamen'. Print Edition | Subscribe