by Elena L. Aben
The Armed Forces of the Philippines yesterday confirmed the abduction of seven Indonesian sailors in the waters off the Sulu Sea.
The military made the statement two days since Indonesian authorities announced that two armed groups seized 13 sailors who were on a tugboat carrying a coal barge in international waters bordering Philippines and Indonesia.
Based on reports, six of the 13 sailors were released unharmed, but their seven companions were taken hostage.
Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, spokesperson for the AFP, said the Armed Forces Western Mindanao Command has confirmed that “there were seven Indonesian sailors who were kidnapped by armed men on the high seas of Indonesia.”
He said the incident took place around 11 a.m. last Wednesday.
“Information from ground units suggest that the kidnap victims are possibly being held captive somewhere in Sulu,” Padilla said.
The victims, among them the boat captain, were said to have been turned over by their abductors to the group of Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Majal Adja, alias “Apo Mike.”
Padilla stressed that the AFP’s Joint Task Force Sulu “is now assessing the situation and will plan for the best course of action to address the given situation.”
Informed sources earlier said that the ASG is demanding 20 million Malaysian ringgit (approximately R220 million) in exchange for the release of the victims.
Following the incident, Malaysia and Indonesia are now pushing for more concrete steps to improve security in the Sulu Sea. They also called on the Philippines to take on more effective measures in addressing the ASG problem.
Reports on the abduction of the seven Indonesian sailors came out on the same day that the bandit group released its Filipina kidnap victim, Marites Flor, after nine months in captivity.
Flor, together with her partner, Canadian Robert Hall; John Ridsdel, also a Canadian; and Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad were seized by Abu Sayyaf gunmen from a posh resort on Samal Island September last year.
The ASG initially asked for R1 billion for each in exchange for the release of the four hostages. The amount was later lowered to P300 million.
Ridsel and Hall were beheaded by on April 25 and June 13, respectively, after deadline for ransom payment passed. Sekkingstad is still being held by the ASG.