Indonesian shipowners and seafarers have urged the governments of Indonesia, Philippines and Malaysia to establish a formal cooperation to secure the waterways between these three countries.

This comes in the wake of the kidnapping of 10 Indonesian crewmen in Philippine waters by Abu Sayyaf militants on Mar 26.

The Indonesian National Shipowners Association and the Indonesian Seafarers Union told Channel NewsAsia that maritime cooperation arrangements similar to what have been set up in the Strait of Malacca need to be considered.

The Malacca Strait, which runs between Malaysia and Indonesia, is a key shipping route in the region. Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore have worked to reduce piracy in that waterway through increased patrols.

The International Maritime Bureau, a piracy reporting centre is also based in Kuala Lumpur.

"Between the countries, they have to work together," said Mr Budhi Halim, secretary-general of the Indonesian National Shipowners Association. "What they are doing in the Strait of Malacca, I think they can do it over (in the Sulu-Sulawesi Seas).

"The only thing (is that the Strait of Malacca) is a commercial and an international passage(way). This one only (involves) Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines and there are only small vessels passing through these areas. But these three countries have to be united to secure this area and (prevent this thing from happening again)."

The Abu Sayyaf militants have demanded a ransom of more than US$1 million. Although the ransom deadline expired on Friday (Apr 8), the Indonesia government said the hostages are safe and that authorities are in intense negotiations with the militant group to secure their release.

The seafaring community has expressed its concerns over the incident and is urging that more be done to keep sailors and ships safe.

"We hope they have a joint operation, joint patrols in the area that can help the seafarers and also the owners to save their cargo," said Mr Hanafi Rustandi, Executive President of the Indonesian Seafarers Union. "The Strait of Malacca is very busy with (a lot of) economic activities (and) in the Philippines maybe only some ships go there, but the danger is the same."

The focus of the Indonesian and Philippine governments now is to free the hostages being held by the Abu Sayyaf group. However, a long term solution may be on the table.

It is understood that informal discussions are already taking place between countries to provide much needed security of waterways between Indonesia, Philippines and Malaysia.

Source: CNA