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ReCAAP: Crew Abductions in Waters Off Eastern Sabah and Southern Philippines

August 5th 2016
Following a series of kidnappings from tug boats and trawlers in the Sulu Sea and Sabah region, ReCAAP has issued a new report on the situation.

Between March and July this year, at least six incidents were reported on board tugs towing barges and at least one trawler. The region is currently seeing a crew abduction at least once a month, with little sign that the militants are slowing down thanks to successful ransom payments.

It is generally believed that the Abu Sayyaf Group or militants linked with them are behind the incidents and the attacks themselves all follow a pattern. The crew are the primary target for the attackers, not the cargo or vessel itself, which distinguishes the incidents from the more normal robbery incidents or small tanker hijackings which are more common in the region.

The majority of the attacks, unusually perhaps, took place between 1000 and 1800 LT, which means that crew had sight of the speedboats approaching them prior to the attacks. As a result, the ReCAAP stress that crew vigilance is paramount and that any suspicious approaches be immediately reported to the Philippines Coast Guard (PCG) Operations Centre in SW Mindanao and the coastal State. The apparent attack methodology in most incidents has been to fire on the tugs and forcibly board them. Crew are advised against confronting the attackers who are generally armed with handguns.

So far, 33 crew have been adbucted; 24 Indonesians and nine Malaysians. To date, 18 crew (from the Brahma 12, Massive 6 and Henry) have been released, leaving 15 still in captivity.

Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia have all met at governmental level to discuss an immediate response to the dangers. While joint patrols have been mooted, there has still been no sign of them actually taking place. Some Indonesian sources suggest armed guards may be placed on board tugs and barges, but it was pointed out that this was illegal.

The current advice is for all vessels to report to the PCG when transiting the area and that tug owners should consider re-routing vessels to avoid the risk of being attacked.