Piracy: On 01 May, ReCAAP released an urgent report indicating that there was a credible threat of imminent attack by Abu Sayyaf militants against seafarers around Borno island, between Indonesia and the Philippines. The report indicated that the group was likely to use a single, blue, three-engine speedboat for the attack.
The Abu Sayyaf group previously conducted kidnaps against seafarers to fund its land operations, which peeked with the seizure of Malawi in 2017. No significant maritime activity has been attributed to the group since their defeat in that siege.
Abu Sayyaf’s return to maritime piracy has been long anticipated. The group used such tactics with success to fund themselves until their land-based operations grew to a self-sustaining level, and observers have highlighted the risk of them returning to form following the destruction of their main fighting strength during conventional battles with Philippine troops in 2017. Their most high-profile attack was that which resulted in the deaths of two German tourists, kidnapped from their yacht near Tanjong Luuk in November 2016. However, numerous kidnaps of local and foreign nationals had formed a key element of their funding since 2000.
Their historical attacks, combined with the intelligence suggesting their use of a single high-powered boat, indicates that the kidnap group is unlikely to be a numerically strong force. Considering this, they are likely to target smaller vessels such as pleasure-craft, fishing boats, or service vessels which are unlikely to be able to out manoeuvre or overbear their vessel. Foreign nationals may not be targets of choice, although potentially able to command a higher ransom; media coverage and law-enforcement response is likely to be more vigorous compared to an attack on local nationals.
Although the statement issued by ReCAAP was limited to a 24-hour window, the fact such a group has been identified as active in the region substantially raises the risk of further operations in future, their intent is highly unlikely to subside outside of this period.
It should be noted that short duration kidnaps of local nationals are believed to occur with high frequency across the Philippine-Indonesian-Malaysia maritime border. Such incidents are rarely reported, and generally related to local organised criminal groups rather than Jihadi insurgent groups.
Vessels in the Sabah region are advised to comply with BMP4 as far as practicable, including the use of hardening vessel measures and enhanced, 24-hour watches. All suspicious activity should be reported to local and regional authorities. Attacks and robberies are regularly reported across the region, both at sea and at anchor. Solace Global remain able to provide a full spectrum of maritime security services throughout South East Asia.