KOTA KINABALU: With the Abu Sayyaf militants moving their kidnapping operations to the high seas after the crackdown in Lahad Datu, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines are now planning attacks at sea to put the pirates out of action.
Foreign ministers and top military officials from the countries will meet in Jogjakarta today to seek the best approaches and security solutions to curb the perennial threat of kidnappings and criminal activities in the shared borders and seas.
The meeting was called by Indonesia amid growing concerns over the security situation in southern Philippines where cross-border criminals linked to the Abu Sayyaf grabbed 14 Indonesians and four Malaysian sailors plying the international maritime waters along the Philippine side of the border in three separate incidents between March 26 and April 8.
Indonesiaâ€™s Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Luhut Binsar Panjaitan said the southern Philippine reÂgion might become like waters off Somalia where kidnappings were rampant.
He said protection of trade in the area was a top priority.
Two Indonesian-flagged vessels â€“ the Brahma 12 tugboat and the Anand 12 barge â€“ were hijacked and 10 Indonesian sailors were taken hostage in southern Philippines on March 26. They were released on Sunday.
Four more Indonesian sailors from tugboat TB Henry are still being held by the gunmen in Jolo. Four Malaysian sailors are also in the hands of the gunmen.
Sabah moved to immediately stop the centuries-old sea border barter trade with southern Philippines in a bid to secure its borders while Indonesia temporarily halted its vessels from plying the maritime route between Sabahâ€™s east coast and Tawi Tawi in the Philippines.
Among the proposals that Putrajaya and Jakarta are keen to pursue with Manila is to have joint patrols to secure the Celebes and Sulu seas maritime routes.
Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman, Indonesiaâ€™s Retno Marsudi and PhiÂlipÂÂpinesâ€™ Jose Rene Almendras are scheÂduled to meet together with their respective chief of forces to discuss the solutions.
Anifah said they were hopeful of finding ways to counter the Abu Sayyaf kidnappings and other sea border threats.
â€œWe will explore all possibilities in secuÂring the area, taking into account our liÂmited assets,â€ he said yesterday.
In a statement, Wisma Putra said it was looking at finding ways to strengthen existing coordination to improve maritime security for the three countries in overcoming kidnappings.
Indonesian Ambassador to Malaysia, Herman Pariyitno, said they were keen to pursue joint patrols to ensure it was safe for merchant ships to go through the area where kidnappings were occurring.
During a meeting last month in Manila, Almendras had told Anifah that the Philippines was keen to step up patrols within its borders while Malaysia patrolled its own.
He also suggested that both southern Philippines and Malaysia each have only one sea exit and entry point. Any boat using any other exit or entry point could be stopped by the joint patrols.
Recently, Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla said he wanted to work closely with the Philippines and Malaysia to address the rising threat of piracy.