Suspected Abu Sayyaf gunmen hijacked a tugboat off the southern Philippine province of Tawi-Tawi near the Sabah border and abducted four Indonesian sailors. They shot and injured another crew before escaping on a speedboat.
Five other sailors, including the wounded crew member of tugboat Henry, sailed to the Malaysian border where they were rescued by Malaysian authorities.
The latest abduction was the third carried out by the Abu Sayyaf since last month.
The wounded sailor, whose identity was not immediately known, was rushed to Semporna district in Tawau town, and the rest of the crewmen filed their police report in Lahad Datu town, also in Sabah.
“The incident happened late Friday in international waters. Four Indonesian seamen were abducted by the kidnappers. One man was shot and is being treated at a hospital,” Sabah police chief Abdul Rashid Harun told Agence France-Presse.
The tugboat carrying coal was sailing from Cebu in the Philippines back to Tarakan in Borneo when the kidnapping occurred.
In a bid to curb kidnappings, Malaysia has imposed a temporary ban on the trade route between Sabah and the southern Philippines.
“The government has suspended barter trade between the two regions until a comprehensive plan is formulated to ensure the safety and security of Sabah state. It is a temporary ban,” marine police chief Abdul Rahim Abdullah said.
“We have deployed marine police boats along with ships from the maritime enforcement agency and the navy to enforce the ban,” he added.
The tugboat was heading to Banjarmasin in South Kalimantan in Indonesia from the Philippines when gunmen intercepted them late Friday.
On March 26, Abu Sayyaf gunmen also snatched 10 Indonesian crew of the tugboat Brahma 12 off Languyan town in Tawi-Tawi—one of five provinces of the volatile Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao—while heading to Sabah.
The Abu Sayyaf also kidnapped four Malaysian crewmen of another tugboat MasFive 6 at sea in Semporma on April 2. The jihadist group also released a photo dated April 8 of the Malaysian hostages Wong Teck Kang, 31, Wong Hung Sing, 34, Wong Teck Chii, 29, and Johnny Lau Jung Hien, 21, all from Sarawak.
The photo, which was uploaded on Facebook, showed the captives squatting and one of them holding a piece of paper with the word “Victor Troy” and the date “April 8, 2016 written on it. They are believed being held by Abu Sayyaf commanders Hatid Hajan Sawajaan and Alhabsi Misaya in the southern Philippines.
Noel Choong, head of the International Maritime Bureau’s (IMB) Kuala Lumpur-based Piracy Reporting Center, said the shipping community had expressed concern over the rise in attacks.
“Everyone is concerned as the attacks could hurt trade. Operating costs will go up if they were to use a longer but safer route,” he said.
“IMB fears such attacks will continue to escalate. How can seamen defend themselves against militants armed with high-powered guns and fast boats?” he added.
Philippine authorities have failed to stop the cross-border kidnappings by Abu Sayyaf in the oil-rich state of Sabah. Just recently, two Filipino generals were sacked for failing to stop the Abu Sayyaf kidnappings in Sabah.
The Abu Sayyaf had in the past beheaded a Malaysian hostage and killed a maritime policeman in a raid on a popular resort in Sabah.
Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman said the decades-old barter trade activity in Sandakan and other east coastal towns was to be ceased immediately, according to the Jakarta Post.
Musa also ordered security forces to seize any foreign motorized boats in Sabah waters. He said security forces will also give protection to merchant boats sailing in high-risk areas in Sabah, particularly near the Philippine border.
He also shelved a propose ferry services—to start in May—between Kudat in Sabah and Palawan province in the Philippines. The strict measures reflected Sabah government’s resolve to rid the east coast of the menace posed by kidnap-for-ransom groups based in southern Philippines.
“The state government takes these kidnappings very seriously. The new measures to be taken will ensure this problem can be dealt with effectively,” Musa said.
“We are also studying in-depth prevention and rectification measures to deal with hijacking and kidnapping involving merchant ships in high-risk waters. The security forces are currently looking into how we can provide better security protection for ships in these waters. However its implementation requires cooperation from all ship owners to enable effective coordination,” he added.