Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines finalizing SOP for joint patrols

Jakarta (ANTARA Newws) - Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines are still finalizing the standard operating procedure (SOP) for conducting joint patrols.

"The SOP, derived from the Yogyakarta Declaration, is still being finalized now. We hope it will be completed soon," Indonesian foreign ministry's spokesman, Arrmanatha Nasir, stated here on Thursday.

Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines have agreed to conduct joint patrolling at a meeting in Yogyakarta on May 5, 2016, held to discuss maritime security in the borders shared by the three countries following the abduction of Indonesian boat crew members in the Philippine waters.

The three countries have agreed to intensify maritime security cooperation, especially on their borders, to prevent the recurrence of hijacking and abduction of boat crew members by armed groups.

In the latest incident, three Indonesian crew members working aboard a Malaysian tugboat, bearing registration number LLD113/5/F, were taken hostage by an armed group in the waters around Felda Sahabat, Tungku, Lahad Datu, Malaysia on July 9.

The three were then taken to the Tawi-tawi waters in South Philippines.

Earlier, on June 20, an armed group had abducted seven Indonesian ship crew members in the Sulu waters, South Philippines.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi stressed that the repeated instances of abduction of boat crewmen in the border between Malaysia and the Philippines would no longer be tolerated.

In view of this, the minister stated that the Indonesian government would strive to finalize the SOP for joint patrolling as soon as possible.

Besides joint patrols, Nasir stated that the three nations would also discuss cooperation for sharing intelligence and offering immediate assistance in case a hijacking incident occurred in the maritime borders shared by the three countries.

He affirmed that the Indonesian, Malaysian, and Philippine governments were committed to meeting their obligations under the joint patrol program.

In connection with questions on the capability of the Philippine Navy to meet its joint patrol obligations, Arrmanatha noted that the Philippines had vowed to fulfill the commitment.

"Certainly, this is a tri-nation commitment. The Philippines would certainly utilize its resources to meet the commitment and to secure the maritime border," he remarked.

So far, 24 Indonesian sailors have been taken hostage in five separate incidents since March this year, reportedly by a Filipino separatist group led by Abu Sayyaf.

Of these 24 hostages, 14 were released safely and peacefully, while 10 were freed on May 1 after being held captive since March 26, 2016, and four, who were abducted on April 15, 2016, were set free by the same group on May 11.

Ten Indonesians are still held hostage by the kidnappers hiding in southern Philippines.

Seven of the Indonesians, all crew members of Tugboat Charles 001 and Barge Robby 152, were abducted in two incidents, of which the first occurred on June 20, 2016, at 11:30 a.m. local time and another at 12:45 p.m. local time in the Sulu Sea while they were on their way back after delivering coal to the Philippines.

Three others were kidnapped in the latest incident on July 9 in the Felda Sahabat waters, Tungku, Lahad Datu, Sabah State, Malaysia.

The vessel's owner reported the incident to the Lahad Datu Police on July 10. According to information, they were ambushed by five armed men aboard a speed boat, who later took them to Tawi-tawi.

Following the latest incident, Indonesian Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu had invited his Filipino and Malaysian counterparts to a meeting in Kuala Lumpur to discuss at length a plan to hold trilateral coordinated patrolling activities involving the three countries.

The meeting, attended by Minister Ryacudu, Philippine Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana, and Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Tun Hussein, was expected to yield concrete measures that could be implemented to strengthen defense cooperation among the three nations.