Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines have agreed to launch coordinated maritime action to tackle the growing piracy and hijackings, mostly carried out by the Islamic State (Isis)-linked Abu Sayyaf militant group. The Southeast Asian nations have also agreed to dedicate a shipping corridor for commercial vessels sailing in the region.
The defence ministers of the three countries who held a high-level meeting on Monday, 20 June to address the security challenges facing the region, pledged to deal with concerns over the safety of vessels and crews operating in the waters. They also decided to step up maritime patrols.
A joint statement issued in Manila after the second round of talks said: "The ministers have agreed in principle to explore the following measures, including a transit corridor within the maritime areas of common concern, which will serve as designated sea lanes for mariners." In May 2016, the three ministers met in Jakarta to assess the situation.
The measures target Abu Sayyaf, which has its base in the southern Philippines, after it increased the frequency of its attacks on vessels. The notorious group, which is also linked to al-Qaeda, is known for its extortion techniques through kidnappings. As many as 20 Indonesian and Malaysian sailors have been abducted by the Islamist group in 2016 alone.
"The ministers raised concern over the recent incidents of kidnappings and armed robbery at sea in the maritime areas of common concern," said the defence chiefs. However, no formal agreement has been signed by the three countries as the Philippines is a new government led by president-elect Rodrigo Duterte is set to take over only by the end of June.
Some of the Asian hostages were freed by the Abu Sayyaf, allegedly in return for huge ransoms, while two Canadian captives were beheaded by the militants this year, sparking widespread outrage.