Seven sailors from Indonesia have been taken hostage in the Sulu Sea in the southern Philippines. The incident is the latest in a series of kidnappings in the waters that connects the two countries.
Indonesian foreign minister Retno Marsudi said that two different armed groups are behind the abductions. It is not clear though if Philippines-based jihadi group Abu Sayyaf is behind these abductions.
Marsudi told reporters on Friday (24 June) that a ship with 13 crew members was towing a coal barge on their tugboat in the Sulu Sea on Monday when they were attacked by armed gangs. In two separate attacks, almost an hour apart, the abductors took the crew hostage. Later, six crew members were released unharmed, while seven were taken hostage. The vessel was on its way back to Indonesia when the kidnapping took place, the minister added, noting that they got confirmation about the incident on Thursday.
A spokesman for the foreign ministry said that they could not confirm if there was a ransom demand. He also could not confirm if Abu Sayyaf carried out the abduction.
A Philippine government spokesman said they were trying to verify the abduction report, which if confirmed, would be the third kidnapping of Indonesian sailors so far in the year.
Earlier, Abu Sayyaf had abducted four Malaysian and 14 Indonesian sailors, who were released after several months. However, it was not known if they were paid a ransom for the release.
Marsudi has said that the sailors' release and their safety is the government's priority. "The government will do everything possible to free these hostages," Marsudi was quoted by The Bangkok Post as telling reporters.
Given the threat posed by Abu Sayyaf militants, the defence ministers of the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia reportedly agreed on a tripartite deal earlier in the week that involves coordinated steps, including possible joint patrols, to avert such criminal incidents in the Sulu and Celebes seas.