On Tuesday 2017-01-03, suspected pirates launched an attack on the geared bulker Ocean Kingdom off of Zamboanga, Mindanao.
A spokesman for the Philippine Coast Guard told Inquirer.net that two speedboats approached the Kingdom and opened fire at her bridge. Coast Guard assets arrived on scene and engaged the pirates, and after a firefight, the attackers retreated. No casualties were reported.
Seafarer Jefry Abales said in a social media post that his vessel had received a mayday call reporting a piracy attack near Sibago Island. At the time, Abales’ vessel was only three nm from the Ocean Kingdom, and he gave thanks that his vessel had not been attacked as well.
This was the second attack on a merchant vessel near Basilan in two months. On November 11, ten gunmen in a speedboat attacked the freighter Royal 16 off of Basilan, boarding her and abducting six Vietnamese crewmembers. One additional seafarer was injured in the exchange.
The Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia are actively fighting Abu Sayyaf kidnappings and piracy in the waters of the Sulu and Celebes Sea. The three nations’ maritime boundaries intersect in this area, and in the past, pirates have taken advantage of territorial seas demarcations to flee the authorities. Manila recently granted its island neighbors the right to conduct hot-pursuit chases of pirates into Philippine waters, a measure that is expected to improve the law enforcement response to attacks off of Sabah and Tawi-Tawi. In addition, the Philippine military has stepped up its shoreside counterinsurgency operations on the islands of Basilan and Sulu in an attempt to eliminate Abu Sayyaf’s bases.
Separately, on Tuesday, the Armed Forces of the Philippines updated its count of Abu Sayyaf hostages, removing two individuals who are suspected of joining the group and three more whose status had not been updated for some time. The update brings the military’s list of Abu Sayyaf hostages down to 27 people, most of them seafarers from Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines.