Seven Indonesian sailors have been kidnapped in the region of the Sulu Sea, the latest in a string of abductions in the waters between the two countries.
Indonesia’s foreign minister told reporters of the abduction on Friday.
Indonesian authorities are concerned that the piracy rate in the Sulu Sea will elevate as the region is an easy target to hijack ships passing through the islands of Sulu.
Indonesia is a major supplier of thermal coal to the Philippines and is concerned that Sulu will become the next Somalia in terms of piracy.
Officials noted that over $40 billion worth of cargo passes through the area of Sulu each year. Many supertankers use the waterways as they cannot use the overcrowded Malacca Strait.
Retno Marsudi, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister told reporters, “We got confirmation of an incident of kidnapping involving Indonesian crew of a ship.” She told reports that the hijacking was carried out by two different armed groups – the crew is said to have been aboard a tugboat towing a barge of thermal coal.
Officials said that six of the thirteen crew members aboard the tug were freed.
So far this year, 18 Indonesians and Malaysians have been kidnapped in three separate attacks in the waters off Sulu. Authorities say that they suspect the two groups to have close ties to the Abu Sayyaf group.
The Philippine military has said the militants have been targeting foreign crew members in slow-moving tugboats as their attempts to penetrate resorts and coastal regions of Malaysia has been difficult due to increased security.
A sharp rise in kidnappings and hijackings at sea has prompted Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines to agree to carry out coordinated patrols to secure the busy waterways. So far no coordinated patrols have taken place.