AN Indonesian sailor was shot and wounded while four of his compatriots were abducted by suspected Abu Sayyaf bandits in Philippine waters between Tawi-Tawi and Lahad Datu in Sabah, authorities reported on Saturday.
Major Filemon Tan, spokesman of the AFP’s Western Mindanao Command, said there were 10 Indonesians onboard the tugboat T/B Henry which was towing the barge Christy en route to Tarakan in North Kalimantan, Indonesia after delivering 8,000 tons of coal in Cebu.
When they reached the area between Tawi-Tawi and Lahad Datu around 6:30 p.m. of Friday, they were intercepted by a grey-blue speedboat carrying five armed men.
Tan said the gunmen ordered the Indonesians to the lower deck but the crew resisted, resulting in the shooting of one of the sailors in the chest. The gunmen then ordered four of the sailors to board the speedboat and they fled toward the north.
Tan said the six remaining sailors, including the injured man, then radioed for help and Malaysian authorities rescued them and brought them to Tawau town in Sabah.
The kidnapping of the sailors from tugboat TB Henry is the third incident in three weeks to occur in the sea routes between Sabah and Tawi Tawi and Tan said there is reason to believe the kidnapping was perpetrated by Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Hatib Hadjan Sawadjaan.
But Tan also stressed that the abductors could also just be pirates using the name of the Abu Sayyaf.
“There is no proof that they are the ones who did that [abduction],” Tan said, adding that the Wesmincom has alerted all its units on the possible landing of the speed boat in their jurisdictions.
So far, Tan said the Abu Sayyaf is holding a total of 18 foreign hostage victims since Abu Sayyaf bandits resumed kidnapping sorties in Western Mindanao waters.
Tan said the incident happened barely 21 days after the Abu Sayyaf kidnapped 10 Indonesian crew of the tugboat Brahma 12 towing a barge with 7,000 tons of coal while cruising towards Batangas Port in Tawi-Tawi.
The 10 Indonesians were identified as Peter Tonson, Julian Philip, Elvis Peti, Surian Syah, Wawan Saputra, Bakyu Oktavianto, Wendi Raknadian and three others identified only through their names as Mahumud, Reynaldi and Surianto.
Someone claiming to be from Abu Sayyaf called the vessel’s owners to demand a ransom for the sailors’ release.
A week later, four Malaysian nationals aboard their motor vessel were also kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf off the coast of Semporna, Malaysia.
Noel Choong, head of the International Maritime Bureau’s Kuala Lumpur-based Piracy Reporting Centre, 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.
Many Western and other embassies routinely issue warnings against traveling to most of the Philippines’ Muslim-populated southern regions, which lie just northeast of Sabah, because of the risk of being abducted by the group.
In the past, Abu Sayyaf has mainly targeted tourists as they can demand high ransoms for foreigners.
Two Canadians and a Norwegian were kidnapped from yachts at a marina in September, with the militants setting an April deadline for a ransom to be paid.
The militants in a video demanded P1 billion ($21 million) for each of the three foreigners, but the Abu Sayyaf lowered their ransom demand to P300 million and postponed the execution of their victims from April 8 to April 25.
The bandits announced the changes in a video posted on YouTube which featured messages from two of the four hostages.
The captives were identified as Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall, Norwegian resort manager Kjartan Sekkingstad and Hall’s Filipina girlfriend Marites Flor.
The victims were seized by armed men last Sept. 21 from the Oceanview Samal Resort in Barangay Camudmud in Samal island.
The videos were posted as another Abu Sayyaf bandit was killed while four troopers were wounded in the military operation against the Al Qaeda-linked terrorist group, presently holed-out in the jungles of Tipo-Tipo, Basilan Thursday.
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