Indonesia fears 'new Somalia' along its maritime border
Indonesia fears piracy on a busy shipping route along its maritime border with the Philippines could hit levels seen in Somalia unless security is tightened, its chief security minister said yesterday, following a spate of kidnappings.
The route lies on major shipping arteries that analysts say carry $40 billion worth of cargo each year. It is taken by fully laden supertankers from the Indian Ocean that cannot use the crowded Malacca Strait.
For the first time, concerns over rising maritime attacks by suspected Islamist militants are disrupting coal trade between the Southeast Asian neighbors, with two Indonesian coal ports suspending shipments to the Philippines.
Up to 18 Indonesians and Malaysians have been taken captive in three attacks on tugboats in Philippine waters along the route by groups suspected of ties to the al-Qaeda linked Abu Sayyaf militant network.
Abu Sayyaf, a small but violent group which has posted videos on social media pledging allegiance to Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, has demanded 50 million pesos ($1.1 million) to free the Indonesian crew.
"We don't want to see this become a new Somalia," Indonesian chief security minister Luhut Pandjaitan told reporters, referring to the southern Philippine waters of the Sulu Sea, where the abductions took place.
Piracy near Somalia's coast has subsided in the last few years, mainly due to shipping firms hiring private security details and the presence of international warships.
The foreign ministers of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines would meet in Jakarta to discuss the possibility of joint patrols, Pandjaitan said.
Authorities at two Indonesian coal ports had blocked departures of ships for the Philippines and more suspensions were expected, said Pandu Sjahrir, chairman of the Indonesian Coal Mining Association, and a director of Jakarta-listed coal producer Toba Bara Sejahtera.