The Malaysian crew of a tugboat missing since last week were abducted by an Islamist militant group in the southern Philippines, Malaysia’s police chief said Tuesday.
The five crew members were taken from their boat off the coast of the northern state of Sabah, which lies near the Philippines, by suspected Abu Sayyaf members, said Inspector General Khalid Abu Bakar.
“The five tugboat crew have been kidnapped by the kidnap-for-ransom group from the southern Philippines,” he told reporters.
Khalid said Malaysian authorities have already discussed procedures for boats sailing in the waters between Malaysia and Philippines to avoid such kidnappings.
“We have called tugboat operators and told them the risks they were facing and how to deal with it as well as contacting us the police,” he said.
“If they do not want to follow our advice and do as they want especially when they are in a dangerous areas, the risk of security threat on them is high,” he added.
Two weeks earlier, Abu Sayyaf militants from the southern Philippines seized three Indonesian fishermen in the same area.
Abu Sayyaf has been blamed for at least five kidnappings in the Sulu Sea-Celebes Sea area, which borders the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia, including those of several Malaysian and Indonesian hostages who were released only after ransoms amounting to millions of dollars were paid.
Abu Sayyaf are still holding seven Indonesians, whom they seized three weeks ago also in the Sulu Sea-Celebes Sea area.
The defence ministers of the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia are scheduled to meet in Jakarta in August to discuss security challenges in their borders, including the increasing number of abductions.