JAKARTA • Two South-east Asian leaders have called out to their neighbours to look into possible joint patrols to secure their maritime routes in the seas around southern Philippines and Sabah, following three recent kidnappings of seamen by the Abu Sayyaf militant group.
President Joko Widodo has called for Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines to look into holding joint patrols.
Separately in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said Singapore and Thailand could be roped in as "observers" in patrolling the Sulu Sea area, while Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Indonesia work on trying to resolve the new piracy menace.
"The President (Mr Joko) has just asked us to explore the possibility of joint security with Malaysia and the Philippines," said Indonesia's Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan on Sunday, as quoted by Antara news agency.
Mr Luhut said the Indonesian military cannot enter Philippine territory to help its kidnap victims, as the local Filipino government must first obtain approval from its Parliament.
Datuk Seri Hishammuddin, who met visiting Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen yesterday, said: "It is not a new thing for Singapore and Malaysia to work together, as we do conduct joint patrolling along the Straits of Malacca."
He added, as quoted by the Malay Mail Online news site: "It would be good if Singapore can join us as an observer together with Thailand, so they can help give us, the Philippines, Brunei and Indonesia, input on how best to tackle the problem."
The calls for joint patrols came about after three recent cases, where seamen were nabbed while on boats around the Sulu Sea by Abu Sayyaf, a group formed in 1991 that is known for extortion, kidnapping, beheadings and bombings.
The previous tactic of the Abu Sayyaf group, which is based in southern Philippines, was to raid tourist islands in Malaysia's Sabah state to grab foreign tourists or Sabahans for ransom.
But the kidnappings have dwindled in the past year after Malaysia tightened security along 1,400km of the Sabah coast under the Eastern Sabah Security Command, or Esscom.
In the latest case, four Indonesian sailors were kidnapped last Friday as they were in the TB Henry tugboat towing a large barge.
The vessel was en route to Tarakan in North Kalimantan, after unloading 8,000 tonnes of coal in the Philippine island of Cebu.
Two weeks earlier on April 1, four Malaysians were abducted at gunpoint while they were in a barge, after delivering logs to Manila.
Sometime around March 29, the Abu Sayyaf militants grabbed 10 Indonesians from the tugboat Brahma 12 and barge Anand 12, and demanded more than US$1 million (S$1.36 million) for their release.
Mr Luhut, when asked about the two cases involving the 14 Indonesians, said: "We are identifying the groups behind the abduction. But it seems that it was economically motivated.
"We are still doing an analysis. We do not know for sure who is holding them hostage. We are studying the motive of the abductors, whether it is political or purely for money."