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Fishermen Kidnapped Off Sabah, Malaysia. ASG Suspected.

LOCAL authorities in Malaysia report the kidnapping of two Indonesian fishermen from a fishing vessel, Dwijaya 1, by suspected Abu Sayyaf militants on 11 September in the province of Sulu, the southern province of Philippines between midnight and 1 am (local time).

The fishing vessel had departed Semporna Jetty three days prior to the incident to carry out fishing in the area East Sabah, Malaysia. Compromising 15 crew at the time, 11 of whom returned to Semporna Jetty with the catch of the day (10 Sep), leaving the Captain and three crew onboard as the vessel remained underway.

It was reported by two crewmen that two armed, masked men in dark clothing onboard a speedboat boarded the vessel off Semporna. Consequently, the two crew immediately hid in a compartment of the vessel, believed to be the engine room, where they maintained a view of the outside of the vessel.FV Crew Kidnapped.

The two gunmen, reportedly armed with M-16 automatic rifles, abducted the two crew Usman Yunus, 35, and Samsul Sagunim, 40, removed the fishing vessel’s radio set before leaving with the abductees. The number of attackers could not be ascertain due to low visibility.

Despite the sea curfew in Eastern Sabah Safety Zone (ESSZONE) between the hours of 1800 and 0600 LT – created in 2014 after a series of kidnapping and attacks against resorts and restaurants – along with stricter security measures following previous kidnapping by Abu Sayyaf militants off Sabah, in the Sulu sea the threat of kidnap had remained.
The gunmen were said to have spoken in the local dialect Tausug, used in Tawi-Tawi and Sulu, according to two other fishermen who evaded abduction. In other reports it was stated that the dialect was “Suluk” also common in the Sulu Archipelago.

The remaining two crewmen were able to sail the vessel back to Semporna Jetty at 0515 LT and report the incident to local authorities.

A Singapore-based ReCAAP (Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia) representative, Nicholas Teo, Deputy Director of the Singapore-based Information Sharing Centre, stated “ReCAAP believe their final destination is Talipao in Sulu, an area where the Abu Sayyaf group has previously based its kidnapping-for-ransom operations.” In the interim, there has been no demand for ransom, however, there has been no confirmation that the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) is responsible.

The curfew restricts the movement of vessels during the aforementioned hours which permits fishing vessels to proceed to fishing areas, providing they gained clearance from the respective district Police Chiefs, in order that livelihoods of local fishermen are sustainable p Dwijaya 1 had obtained the requisite permit to conduct movement and fishing during the curfew period.
During 2016 kidnapping incidents had occurred in the area, however, none were recorded in 2017 with minor incidents reported in 2018 until now.

There is a difference in the modus operandi to previous abductions observed in the area. At least two motorised craft with five to 10 armed individuals would deploy against a vessel, whereas this incident saw only one speedboat utilised and the attackers were only two armed persons.

Lt. Col. Gerry Besana, spokesperson for the Western Mindanao Command, said the military was now conducting joint border patrols with Indonesian and Malaysian forces to block the suspects’ possible escape routes, reports Global Nation Inquirer.

The claim that illegal immigrants from southern Philippines living in Sabah are believed to have helped kidnappers in the abduction of two Indonesians on 11 September by providing them with inside information has yet to be verified.

ReCAAP has previously warned vessels of such illegal activities in the area and to bolster their security standing in the waters off Sabah, including the proper use of lookouts, maintaining standard berating procedures and reporting incidents to local authorities in a timely manner which remain key to mitigating the risk of kidnap for ransom (KFR) in the affected area. A global Best Management Practice is available and should be adapted to enhance maritime security measures. To deter and delay KFR, a safe compartment, or citadel, in the vessel to enable safe refuge, should be established.