Warning issued after fishing crew abducted near Malaysia

Abu Sayyaf rebels holding hostages taking position in their stronghold in Jolo island, southwest Philippines. Credit: ROMEO GACAD/AFP/Getty Images

The Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against ships in Asia (ReCAAP) warned last week that three Indonesian crew members had been abducted from a Malaysian fishing boat near Tambisan Island, Lahad Datu, Sabah.

According to the warning, the perpetrators are thought to be members of the kidnap-for-ransom group in Sulu-based Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). On 23 September, seven masked men with high-powered guns boarded the fishing vessel from two pump boats.   

The perpetrators subsequently fled towards Tawi-Tawi Island in the Philippines, ReCAAP said.  

Local media reports claimed that a pair of trawlers were boarded in the incident, with crew abducted from one vessel, while documents and mobile phones were taken from the other. 

Authorities in Malaysia and the Philippines promised to step up patrol efforts and conduct pursuit operations to rescue the seafarers and “neutralise” the militant group who kidnapped them.  

The International Maritime Bureau reported earlier in 2019 that the seas around West Africa remain the world’s most dangerous maritime piracy hot spot. Of the 75 seafarers kidnapped or taken hostage on board between January and July 2019, 62 were captured in the Gulf of Guinea. However, in April, ReCAAP warned that despite the number of piracy and armed robbery cases in Asia continuing to decline, abduction risks in the Sulu and Celebes Sea remained high due to ASG presently active in the region. Ten crew members were notably kidnapped from two fishing boats off the coast of Malaysia’s eastern Sabah in June.