The ReCAAP ISC states that it is concerned with the spate of incidents involving the abduction of crew from ships while underway in waters off eastern Sabah and southern Philippines which occurred since March 2016.
A Special Report on ‘Abducting of Crew from Tug Boats in Waters off Eastern Sabah and Southern Philippines’ was published by the ReCAAP ISC on 22 April 2016.
This Special Report (Part II) provides an update of the situation, focuses on the modus operandi of the perpetrators, status of the abducted crew and actions carried out by the littoral States and the ReCAAP ISC.
Between March till July 2016, the ReCAAP Focal Point (Philippines) reported to the ReCAAP ISC a total of six incidents occurred on board five tug boats towing barges and one fishing trawler. Of these, one occurred in March 2016 (Brahma 12), two in April 2016 (Massive 6 and Henry), one in June 2016 (Charles 00) and two in July 2016 (unnamed fishing trawler and Serudong 3). The abducted crew of Brahma 12, Massive 6 and Henry had been released after ransom was believed to have been paid to the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). See map below on the location of the six incidents, and refer to Annex A (See Full Report) for description of the incidents.
Generally, the modus operandi of the perpetrators involved in the six incidents was fairly similar, except for one incident (Charles 00) where the perpetrators abducted the crew twice within a duration of 75 mins on the same day. In all six incidents, the target was the crew, and not the ships nor its cargo. In two incidents (Brahma 12 and Serudong 3), the tug boats were abandoned after the perpetrators abducted the entire crew. Refer to Annex B (See Full Report) for details of the modus operandi of the six incidents, which is summarized as follows:
” Type of ship. Of the six incidents, five involved tug boats towing barges, and one involved a fishing trawler. Tug boats engaged in towing operations operate at a slow speed of between 2-3 knots, with low freeboard are vulnerable and easy target for boarding. There was one incident involving a fishing trawler which was boarded on 9 July 2016, an indication that slow moving ship was targeted regardless of its type.
” Time of incident. Five of the six incidents occurred during daylight hours of between 1000 hrs – 1800 hrs. Ship master and crew are strongly encouraged to exercise vigilance, and should there be any suspicious boats in the vicinity, they are to raise the alarm and report to PCG Operations Centre in southwestern Mindanao and the coastal State immediately.
” Type of boats used by perpetrators. Five of the six incidents reported the use of speed boats by the perpetrators. Of these, two incidents reported the use of green and red ‘jungkong’ pump boats (small wooden traditional fishing boats), and three incidents reported the use of grey and white speed boats.
” Number of perpetrators. Three of the six incidents involved perpetrators operate in groups of between 5-8 men. There was one incident where 17 perpetrators were reported (Brahma 12).
” Weapons. The perpetrators were reported to carry firearms. In the incident involving Henry and Charles 00, the perpetrators opened fire at the tug boats and forcibly boarded the ships. Ship master and crew are strongly advised to avoid confronting or antagonising the perpetrators.
” Treatment of crew. In most incidents the perpetrators did not harm the crew except in Henry on 15 April 2016 when one of the crew was reportedly injured and subsequently brought to a hospital for treatment by the Malaysian Marine Police.
” Flag of ships. Of the six incidents, three were Malaysia-registered ships and three were Indonesia-registered ships. No evidence to indicate that certain flag ships were targeted.
” Nationality of abducted crew. Of the 33 crew abducted, 24 were Indonesians and 9 were Malaysians. It appeared the perpetrators were particular about the nationality of the crew to abduct, as evidenced from the incident involving the fishing trawler when the perpetrators inquired who among the crew had passport, and three replied that they had. The perpetrators abducted the three with their passports and fled in their speed boat, leaving the remaining four on board the fishing trawler.
” Economic loss. Some reports mentioned that the perpetrators stole other items on board the ship, including navigational equipment, and crew’s personal belongings such as mobile phones and laptops. Apart from abducting the crew, the perpetrators were opportunistic in stealing ship items and crew’s personal belongings. The possibility of the ‘abduction for ransom’ group carried out the abduction and handed the abducted crew over to the ASG for a fee, cannot be ruled out.
Status of Abducted Crew
Of the 33 crew who had been abducted in the six incidents, 18 (from Brahma 12, Massive 6 and Henry) had been released, and ransom was believed to have been paid to secure the releases. The remaining 15 crew (from Charles 00, fishing trawler and Serudong 3) are still being held in captivity.
With concerns over the escalation of the situation involving the abduction of crew from ships in waters off eastern Sabah and southern Philippines, the ReCAAP ISC reiterates the need to strengthen regional coordination and cooperation among the littoral States in conducting joint/coordinated patrols and surveillance; and apprehension of the mastermind.