An Abu Sayyaf video. Source: YouTube
Jakarta is calling for naval patrols to be stepped up after Abu Sayyaf released 10 sailors from two Indonesian vessels after a month in captivity.
President Joko Widodo thanked Manila for its work to secure the release of the sailors, who were seized by the Islamists in southern Philippines waters. Joko said the authorities were still working hard to release another four Indonesians held by the group on April 15.
He said a meeting on naval security would be held next week with Malaysia and the Philippines.
It is expected foreign ministers and military leaders will discuss joint patrols although overlapping maritime claims have stifled previous efforts to cooperate over the issue.
Indonesian Security Minister Luhut Panjaitan has said that he feared the Sulu Sea was becoming a “new Somalia”. In the mid-1960s, the Muslims of Mindanao in the southern Philippines rebelled against Manila and the Sulu Sea has since been linked to Islamist insurgency. Recently Islamic State appears to have taken advantage of unrest and established operations in the area.
Disputes between Manila and Beijing over the South China Sea may be another complicating factor.
“The incoming Philippine administration, pressed by the US, which is stationing military forces in the Philippines for the first time since the early 1990s, will have its hands full dealing with China over territorial claims in the South China Sea,” argued Michael Vatikiotis of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue.
Abu Sayyaf’s main source of income comes from kidnapping.
It was apparently demanding a ransom of 50 million pesos (US$1.42 million) for Indonesian sailors. It is not known if any money was paid for their release.
Jakarta’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi announced that a “lot of parties” were involved in their release, including “informal networks”.
Indonesia denied that any ransom was paid and would not comment on reports that the sailors were released after a payment from their employer to Abu Sayyaf.
“We will never claim that the government did that [paid a ransom] because we never do that,” Joko’s presidential chief of staff Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan said. “That’s company business,” he said when asked if the company, Patria Maritimes Lines, helped out. “I don’t want to comment on that.”