Over the last five years, the ASEAN media have described the Sulu Sea as a hub of terror activities and said that unless piracy is stopped, the region could become the next Somalia of Southeast Asia
Last Thursday, two Indonesia sailors were reportedly freed from their Abu Sayyaf captors after a heavy firefight in Sulu between the Philippine security forces and dozens of kidnappers, believed to be members of the ISIS-inspired terror group.
The Indonesian sailors were identified as Sawal Maryam and Sarapudding Koni, who were abducted in November 2016 on board a cargo ship sailing off the waters between Sabah and the Southern Philippines.
Military authorities said the victims were allegedly freed at the municipal town of Indanan in Sulu province this week. From Indanan, they boarded a jeepney but eventually was intercepted by soldiers manning the security checkpoint in Jolo.
However, It was not known whether or not a ransom was paid but based on the Abu Sayyaf's practice, it is difficult to believe that money was not involved as the militants often behead captives if their relatives fail to deliver the amount on time.
The question now arises that why do maritime terrorists prefer to abduct sailors passing through the Sulu and Celebes seas? The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reported that there were 62 kidnappings with ransom held in the Sulu in 2016 alone.
Asia Times earlier reported that the Sulu Sea border is so vast and host to many small islands where pirates readily evade arrest after they conduct the abduction. The Abu Sayyaf prefer to abduct sailors because after abducting sailors they can just move from one island to another in the vast Sulu Sea.
Moreover, the Sulu sea is adjacent to Sulu Islands known as the breeding ground of Islamic separatists where they enjoy the support of the villagers. The Philippine military reported that they are having a difficult time getting information about the whereabouts of these maritime terrorists because the villagers were also recipients of ransom money collected from the kidnappings.
Based on previous records, the Abu Sayyaf has already abducted sailors in the Sulu Sea who are Germans, Vietnamese, Indonesians, and Malaysians.
Time.com earlier reported that one company PT Patria Maritime Lines paid the ransom of USD 1 million for the safe release of 10 Indonesia sailors who were abducted in March this year. The sailors have been freed after the payment.
Another reason is that relatives of the victims will do anything to raise money to pay the kidnappers and bring back the family member home. Despite the Philippine position not to negotiate with kidnapper-terrorists, the sailors' relatives would claim that this is unavoidable because the sailors' relatives prefer to negotiate to save the sailors' lives.
ASEAN countries have to develop new ways to address maritime piracy in the Sulu Sea otherwise, more innocent sailors will be victims of terrorist acts in the maritime.