YOGJAKARTA/JAKARTA - Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines have agreed to conduct coordinated patrols in piracy-prone areas over the South China Sea as well as set up crisis centres in their respective countries to better respond to maritime emergencies, said Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi on Thursday (May 5).
There will also be a dedicated hotline between them to facilitate faster exchange of information in times of crises at sea, added Ms Retno.
"We have agreed to set up a national focal point among the three countries to facilitate sharing of information and intelligence in a prompt way, and to coordinate in any emergency situation. This way, we can respond faster."
These initiatives will be adapted from the "best practices" of the ongoing Malacca Straits Patrol (MSP), which was established in 2006 by the navies of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, said Ms Retno, speaking to the media after a meeting involving officials from Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.
The trilateral gathering, hosted by Indonesia in Yogyakarta, comes after recent kidnappings in the waters off southern Philippines and north of Borneo, where Indonesia shares a border with Malaysia.
President Joko Widodo told the media after a courtesy call by the Malaysian and Philippine foreign ministers and armed forces representatives, that aside from the crisis hotline, he has also asked that the delegates discuss how patrols will be carried out, the course of action that should be taken when responding to incidents at sea, as well as a common operating procedure between the militaries of the three South-east Asian nations.
"I have encouraged the military commanders to make clear standard operating procedures, so we can carry out our course of action together," said Mr Joko.
Officials attending the discussions include Ms Retno, as well as her counterparts Mr Anifah Aman from Malaysia and Mr Jose Rene Almendras from the Philippines.
Indonesian armed forces chief General Gatot Nurmantyo and his Malaysian counterpart General Zulkifeli Mohd Zin, as well as Philippine navy chief Rear Admiral Caesar C. Taccad were also part of the group.
Ms Retno said the military chiefs from the three countries will follow-up on the operating procedures that will be adopted.
The officials first paid a courtesy visit to Mr Joko at the Gedung Agung presidential palace in Yogyakarta and a joint press statement by the three countries is expected to be issued at the end of the meeting, said Indonesia's Foreign Affairs Ministry.
"The meeting is an Indonesian initiative against the background of the increasing security challenges alarming in the waters between the three countries,” said a ministry spokesman in a statement on Thursday morning.
“These challenges include the rise of armed piracy, transnational crime and terrorism in the region... These challenges are seen as threatening the safety of the citizens and affecting trade and economic activities that cause harm to the welfare of the region.”
The ministry noted that in 2015 more than 100,000 vessels had sailed through the territorial waters off the Sulu Archipelago, in southern Philippines, carrying 55 million metric tonnes of cargo and more than 18 million passengers.
In the past five weeks, 14 Indonesian and four Malaysian seamen were abducted from their boats by gunmen believed to have ties with the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group.
Ten Indonesians seized at the end of March were released on May 1 and have since returned home.
Malaysian foreign minister Anifah underlined the importance of "addressing the root causes" that contribute to the growing number of kidnapping cases, his ministry said in a statement, referring to the protracted unrest in southern Philippines, Abu Sayyaf's stronghold.
Experts have said the joint patrols between the three countries may take the form of the successful MSP, which consists of the Malacca Strait Sea Patrol (MSSP), "Eyes in the Sky" aerial patrols and the MSP Intelligence Exchange Group.
The MSSP has been particularly successful in tackling piracy in South-east Asia, significantly reducing the number of piracy attacks in the busy sea lane, two experts from the University of Indonesia had said on May 3.