ZAMBOANGA CITY: Suspected Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) rebels hijacked a cargo ship off the province of Tawi-Tawi, killing one Vietnamese crew and abducted six sailors before escaping to the open sea.
The military said security forces recovered the body of the slain sailor and rescued 10 other Vietnamese crew of MV Giang Hai and brought them to the nearest dock in Taganak Island.
“Local fishermen reported [on]Monday morning that they sighted a vessel at the vicinity of Turtle Island which appears to have been sea-jacked. Elements of the Marine Battalion Landing Team 8 proceeded to the area to respond and found the crewon board,” a military report said.
An interpreter interviewed the Vietnamese sailors, but details of this were not immediately available, although security forces in the area have been alerted on the abductions.
No individual or group claimed responsibility for the latest hijacking, but military units suspect the ASG was behind the attack.
The military’s Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) said one Abu Sayyaf rebel, Al Abdullah, was also killed on Sunday afternoon in a clash with soldiers on Turtle Island.
It said Abdullah was first interrogated by soldiers after armed men – believed to be ASG rebels – stayed in his house. After investigation, Abdullah was allowed to go home but returned with an automatic rifle and fired at the soldiers, triggering a firefight that killed him.
The military said it was searching for the armed men who were later identified as Absar, Musub Baudin and Man Baudi. All remain at large.
“This is a big setback on the Abu Sayyaf as we continue to intensify the conduct of law enforcement operations along with the police and maximize intel monitoring to preempt kidnappings within our joint area of operations,” Major General Carlito Galvez, Wesmincom commander, said.
It was not immediately known whether Abdullah or any of the gunmen participated in the hijacking of the Vietnamese ship.
Last January, a group of Abu Sayyaf rebels attempted to hijack a Filipino cargo ship while sailing off Basilan province. The gunmen, on board two speedboats, attacked the vessel Ocean Kingdom – manned by over two dozen sailors – off Sibago Island while heading to Davao City to deliver its cargo.
Security forces rushed to the area and secured the cargo boat owned by Oceanic Shipping Lines. It was the second cargo ship attacked by rebels off Basilan since last year. Abu Sayyaf fighters also hijacked a Vietnamese cargo ship and seized six crew, including its captain in a daring attack on November 11 that left one sailor wounded.
The ship, MV Royal 16, was sailing off the province when 10 gunmen on a speedboat intercepted it off Sibago Island and boarded the vessel and abducted the crew. Another Filipino cargo ship, MV Lorcon Iloilo, passing near Basilan rescued the wounded sailor.
The group is also holding over a dozen Malaysian and Indonesian sailors in the restive region.
President Rodrigo Duterte, who visited Kuala Lumpur last year, has allowed Malaysia to enter the country’s
southern border in hot pursuit of ASG rebels and kidnap gangs following a series of ransom kidnappings in Sabah near Tawi-Tawi.
Manila also allowed Indonesia to do the same following the spate of Abu Sayyaf attacks on its tugboats in Sabah and Tawi-Tawi. The Philippines has joint border patrol agreements with both Malaysia and Indonesia.