Crewman flees from Abu Sayyaf, swims to freedom

Mr Safyan in a hospital yesterday after his escape from militants who had captured his boat crew off southern Philippines.
Mr Safyan in a hospital yesterday after his escape from militants who had captured his boat crew off southern Philippines.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MANILA • An Indonesian tugboat crewman escaped from his Islamist militant captors in the Philippines yesterday by swimming out to sea after the militants threatened to cut his head off, a Philippine army spokesman said.

Members of the ISIS-linked Abu Sayyaf group captured Indonesian Mohammad Safyan, 28, and six other Indonesian seamen from their boat as it was passing through waters off southern Philippine islands on June 23.

Residents of Jolo island spotted Mr Safyan floating offshore after he escaped under cover of darkness, an army spokesman, Major Filemon Tan, told reporters.

"We were told he managed to escape by running to the sea and swimming," Major Tan said, adding that Mr Safyan had said the militants were about to execute him when he escaped.

"We have no information on the other captives but troops in the area were ordered to use all means to locate and rescue the hostages."

Abu Sayyaf rebels operating in Muslim areas of the largely Christian Philippines have developed a reputation as ruthless kidnappers.

They have increasingly been turning their attention to vessels passing through busy shipping lanes in the Sulu Sea as security along coasts has been tightened.

Earlier this year, the rebels, who have vowed allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), beheaded two Canadians they kidnapped from a beach resort after a ransom deadline passed.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte last week ordered the army to destroy the militants, saying if not, the Philippines risked being "contaminated" by ISIS.

The Indonesian authorities have said piracy in the area, a major sea lane for the world's top thermal coal exporter, Indonesia, could reach levels previously seen in Somalia.

Analysts say US$40 billion (S$53.6 billion) worth of cargo passes through the waters a year, including supertankers from the Indian Ocean that cannot use the crowded Malacca Strait.

The rise of hijackings at sea has prompted Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia to try to coordinate maritime patrols.

Major Tan said the Abu Sayyaf was holding 15 foreign hostages - a Norwegian, a Dutch, five Malaysians and eight Indonesians.

Eight Filipinos were also being held in the group's jungle stronghold.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2016, with the headline 'Crewman flees from Abu Sayyaf, swims to freedom'. Print Edition | Subscribe