JAKARTA • Top officials from Indonesia and Malaysia have expressed their concerns to Manila over recent kidnappings of their seafarers off southern Philippines.
Fourteen Indonesians were kidnapped in two separate incidents while towing coal to the Philippines in the past three weeks. In the third incident, four Malaysians were abducted after delivering logs to the southern Philippines in a barge.
The concerns expressed by the officials came about as foreign ministers and armed forces commanders of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines are set to meet in Jakarta on May 3 to discuss the possibility of joint patrols in the waters of north- east Borneo island.
The kidnappers are believed to be militants with links to Abu Sayyaf, a group known for extortion, kidnapping, beheadings and bombings.
Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla said he has asked the Philippines to ensure the security of its ships carrying commodities to the country, according to Antara news agency yesterday.
"It (the matter) is still being discussed with the Philippines regarding how security can be ensured for ships passing through Philippine waters. Perhaps it will be done through a joint patrol or by escorting our ships," he told reporters.
The Indonesian news agency said dozens of barges that regularly deliver coal and other produce to the Philippines have been afraid to sail through these waters after the kidnapping incidents that happened at the end of last month and early this month.
This has caused coal exports from Indonesia to the Philippines to drop and resulted in the Philippines suffering a shortage of coal to meet its electricity needs, Mr Kalla said.
He said around 20 barges have remained in Tarakan port in Banjarmasin, the capital of South Kalimantan, instead of sailing to the Philippines after the abductions.
Meanwhile, Malaysia's Foreign Minister Anifah Aman met his Filipino counterpart Jose Rene Almendras in Manila yesterday to express Kuala Lumpur's "serious concern" over the kidnapping of four Malaysians, The Star newspaper reported on its website.
Datuk Seri Anifah emphasised the importance of intensifying cooperation to secure the release of the Malaysians, including intelligence sharing and patrolling.
The piracy in the waters off southern Philippines and north-east Sabah led Indonesia's Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan to say on Wednesday that more needed to be done to prevent the area from becoming like Somalia.
The Somalia piracy outbreak at the end of the previous decade paralysed shipping lanes and cost the industry billions of dollars as hundreds of seafarers were kidnapped for ransom.