JAKARTA, Indonesia â€” Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines agreed on Thursday to conduct coordinated sea patrols and establish a hotline to combat piracy and kidnappings in waters bordering the three Southeast Asian nations.
A meeting among the countriesâ€™ foreign ministers, held in the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta, was prompted by the recent kidnapping of 10 Indonesian sailors in the southwestern Philippines by Abu Sayyaf, a militant organization that has functioned as a kidnap-for-ransom group for more than two decades.
The 10 sailors, abducted in late March, were released on Sunday. Indonesian officials said that no ransom had been paid.
Abu Sayyaf has kidnapped at least 19 people, including foreigners, in the past year and a half. On Monday, the head of one hostage, a Canadian citizen, was found in the southern Philippine town of Jolo.
Indonesiaâ€™s foreign minister, Retno Marsudi, said in a statement after the meeting that the latest crisis showed the importance of working together to fight piracy and kidnappings.
â€œWe agreed to strengthen cooperation and collaboration in the handling of security challenges as well as the implementation of coordinated patrols in the waters of common interest,â€ Ms. Retno said of the meeting with her counterparts from Malaysia and the Philippines. The countries also agreed to set up a hotline to improve their emergency responses, she added.
In a joint statement, the three countries said that they â€œrecognized the growing security challenges, such as those arising from armed robbery against ships, kidnapping, transnational crimes and terrorism in the region, particularly in reference to the maritime areas of common concern.â€
The waters surrounding the Sulu Archipelago, where the sailors were kidnapped, include the Sulu Sea and the northern limit of the Celebes Sea. Indonesia and Malaysia share a land border on Borneo Island, southwest of the Sulu Sea, and the three countries have sea borders in the region.
According to Indonesiaâ€™s foreign ministry, more than 100,000 ships sailed through the Sulu Sea last year, carrying 55 million metric tons of cargo and more than 18 million passengers.
Since 2006, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand have conducted coordinated air and sea patrols in the Strait of Malacca, the worldâ€™s busiest sea lane, also in response to piracy and fears of terrorist threats in those waters.
By Joe Cochrane