The captain and one crew member of a South Korean cargo ship have been abducted by suspected Abu Sayyaf fighters in the southern Philippines, according to military officials.
Ten gunmen, who reportedly identified themselves as fighters from the Abu Sayyaf group, boarded the Dongbang Giant 2 ship on Thursday and kidnapped its captain, described by the Philippine army as “Korean”, as well as a local crewman.
“They identified themselves as Abu Sayyaf Group members …. We’re looking into this,” regional military command spokesman, Major Filemon Tan, told the ABS CBN television channel on Friday.
The ship was en route to South Korea from Australia when it was attacked.
Other crewmen were not seized and one managed to call his family, which reported the assault to authorities, according to Tan.
The 11,400-tonne vessel was allowed to continue on its course after the abductions, Tan said, adding that authorities had interviewed witnesses on board, with the military now in “hot pursuit” of the kidnappers.
Naval patrols off Tawi-Tawi and nearby Sulu, where fighters take most of their kidnapping victims, have been strengthened in recent months due to a spate of abductions, Tan told the Associate Press news agency.
“We do our best to secure that area but it’s a wide body of water,” Tan said by telephone.
Abu Sayyaf, which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group (ISIL, also known as ISIS), has entrenched its network in recent years with vast sums of ransom money.
The group began abducting sailors in border waters between Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines early this year, taking several dozen Indonesian and Malaysian hostages.
The armed fighters also beheaded two Canadian hostages and released a Norwegian man along with a number of Indonesian and Malaysian sailors in the past.
Military sources say the group is still holding a Dutch hostage, five Malaysians, two Indonesians and four Filipinos in their jungle stronghold in the southern Philippines.