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Seven Indonesian sailors kidnapped in Phillippines

Up to 18 Indonesians and Malaysians were kidnapped in three attacks on tugboats earlier this year in Philippine waters. In photo: Four Indonesian sailors kidnapped in the strife-torn southern Philippines, arrive back at in Jakarta on May 13, 2016. Photograph: (AFP)

Reuters Jakarta, Indonesia Jun 24, 2016, 05.23 AM (IST)
Seven Indonesian sailors have been taken hostage in the Sulu Sea in the southern Philippines, Indonesia's foreign minister said today.

The incident was the latest in a string of abductions in the waters between the two Southeast Asian neighbours.

Indonesian authorities have voiced concerns that piracy in the Sulu Sea area, a major sea traffic lane for the world's top thermal coal exporter, could reach levels previously seen in Somalia.

"The kidnap happened twice on the Sulu Sea on June 20, 2016. The first incident happened at around 11:30 am local time, and the second at around 12:45 pm local time, by two different armed groups. The boats were carrying a total of 13 sailors, seven of them were taken away and six were freed," said Retno Marsudi, Indonesia's foreign minister.

Six of the 13 crew on board were freed, Marsudi said, and were on their way back to Indonesia.

"The government of Indonesia condemn strongly on yet another kidnap of our nationals by the armed groups in southern Philippines. This third incident is not tolerable," said Marsudi.

Analysts say $40 billion worth of cargo passes through those waters a year, including supertankers from the Indian Ocean that cannot use the crowded Malacca Strait.

Up to 18 Indonesians and Malaysians were kidnapped in three attacks on tugboats earlier this year in Philippine waters by groups suspected of ties to the Abu Sayyaf militant network. All 14 Indonesian citizens were later released.

Indonesia urged its neighbouring country to take action to maintain peace.

"Indonesian government urges the Philippines government to ensure peace around the waters in southern Philippines, so that it will not affect the economy activities in the area. In relation to this, Indonesian government is ready work with our counterpart," said Marsudi.

The Philippine military has said the militants have been targeting foreign crew of slow-moving tugboats because they can no longer penetrate resorts and coastal towns in Malaysia's eastern Sabah state due to increased security.

The rise of sea hijackings prompted Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia to agree last month to carry out coordinated patrols to secure the region's busy waterways.

However, coordinated patrols are yet to get underway.

Abu Sayyaf, known for amassing tens of millions of dollars from kidnappings, has beheaded two Canadian nationals in recent weeks after ransom deadlines passed.

The group is still holding Malaysian seamen and Japanese, Dutch, Norwegian, and Philippine citizens.

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