ZAMBOANGA CITY: Suspected Abu Sayyaf militants have seized 13 Indonesian tugboat crew members off the southern Philippine province of Tawi-Tawi barely a week before President Benigno Aquino III steps down from office, reports said.
Indonesian media also reported that the boat captain phoned his wife and told her that they were intercepted at sea on Wednesday by gunmen, who introduced themselves as Abu Sayyaf and were demanding 20 million Malaysian ringgits ($5 million) for their safe release.
The militants and their hostages—of tugboat Charles OO—were last reported heading to Tawi-Tawi, one of five provinces under the Muslim autonomous region. There was no immediate statement from the boat owner, PT Rusianto Brothers.
The tugboat was heading to Samarinda in East Kalimantan following a trip from the Philippines when gunmen intercepted it. The Abu Sayyaf reportedly split the hostages into two groups.
The Abu Sayyaf previously kidnapped 14 Indonesian tugboat crewmembers in separate attacks at sea and brought them to Sulu province and eventually released through the intercession of the Moro National Liberation Front.
Philippines military and police authorities were not immediately available to confirm the reports.
President Aquino has ordered a military campaign against the Abu Sayyaf in the southern Philippines, following the beheading of a Malaysian and two Canadian hostages. AL JACINTO