ZAMBOANGA CITY: Suspected Abu Sayyaf rebels hijacked a Vietnamese cargo ship and abducted six crew, including its captain, in a daring attack that left one sailor wounded near Basilan province on Friday.
The ship, MV Royal 16, was sailing off the province when 10 gunmen on a speedboat intercepted the vessel and abducted the crew off Sibago Island.
It was sailing less than 20 kilometers from Basilan island, a stronghold of Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) terrorists, when it was attacked.
A local cargo ship, MV Lorcon Iloilo, passing near Basilan rescued a wounded sailor who apparently had managed to escape and gave him first aid.
Identities of the hostages were not immediately known although reports claimed that they are Vietnamese sailors.
It was not also revealed what kind of cargo the ship was carrying when it was intercepted.
Gov. Mujiv Hataman of Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) said they are waiting for details surrounding the attack.
The latest attack came hours after President Rodrigo Duterte arrived home from his visit to Malaysia where he met with Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Razak said the Philippines has allowed Malaysia to enter the country’s southern border in hot pursuit of Abu Sayyaf bandits and kidnap groups in the wake of a slew of ransom kidnappings in Sabah near the province of Tawi-Tawi.
The Philippine government also allowed Indonesia to do the same over a spate of Abu Sayyaf attacks on its tugboats in Sabah, Malaysia, and Tawi-Tawi province in Mindanao.
It has joint border patrol agreements with both Malaysia and Indonesia.
The recent abduction brings to at least eight the number of people snatched from sea vessels in the region over the past week, including an elderly German sailor, raising fears that authorities are unable to control the worsening piracy problem.
The Philippine Army’s regional spokesman, Filemon Tan, said sea and naval assets had been deployed to search and rescue the six foreign sailors.
In recent months, the Abu Sayyaf had been accused of kidnapping dozens of Indonesian and Malaysian sailors in waters off Mindanao.
An Abu Sayyaf commander over the weekend claimed responsibility for seizing a German sailor, 70, and killing his wife.
In what maritime experts described as a landmark incident, the captain of a South Korean cargo ship and a Filipino crew were abducted off their vessel, the first such attack on a large merchant vessel.
Abu Sayyaf bandits this year beheaded two Canadian hostages after demands for millions of dollars were not met.
Most of the Indonesian and Malaysian sailors were released after ransoms were reportedly paid.
This prompted Duterte to launch a military offensive to “destroy” the Abu Sayyaf.
Two more Indonesian sailors were abducted on November 5, however.
The Abu Sayyaf belongs to a loose network of terrorists formed in the 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network, and has earned millions of dollars from kidnappings-for-ransom.
It is not the only threat with those near-lawless islands home to other armed groups and people whose families have been involved in piracy for generations, according to security analysts.