Zamboanga—Eight local fishermen have been found shot dead in their boat off the piracy-plagued southern Philippines, the military said Tuesday.
The outrigger boat was attacked in the Moro Gulf off the Zamboanga peninsula on Mindanao island on Monday night, it said, citing an account by one of seven survivors.
A photograph released by the military showed the wooden fishing boat, recovered by the coast guard Tuesday, with a bloodied corpse atop another corpse.
“The other (crew) members jumped off the boat and survived,” regional military spokesman Major Filemon Tan told AFP.
Tan said authorities suspect the fishermen were killed either as part of an extortion attempt or due to rivalry with the crew of other fishing boats.
The survivors swam to a smallisland, while the five unidentified gunmen left the area aboard their own boat, the spokesman added.
The waters off southwest Mindanao are troubled by piracy, including by Abu Sayyaf Islamic militants based on Basilan island and the Sulu island group near the port of Zamboanga.
The International Maritime Bureau said in a report Tuesday the number of maritime kidnappings worldwide hit a 10-year high last year.
It cited the Sulu Sea between eastern Malaysia and the Philippines as an increasing dangerous region.
The Abu Sayyaf boarded at least one cargo ship and several coal barges last year, abducting dozens of Indonesian, Malaysian and other foreign crew members. Some were later freed after the reported payment of ransoms.
Tan did not say if the Abu Sayyaf had any role in Monday’s attack.
It came a week after suspected Abu Sayyaf gunmen on board two boats tried to board a Philippine-registered container ship off Basilan.
The ship’s hull was hit by bullets but it continued on its course with all 27 crew members safe after the gunmen failed to board the vessel, Tan said.
Eight crew members of the fishing boat were killed after being strafed by alleged rival group off the high seas of Zamboanga City Monday night, the military said yesterday.
Col. Juvymax Uy, commander Task Force Zamboanga, said that fishing boat NB, manned by 15 crew members, was at the high seas of Laud Siromon, Barangay Dita when it was shot up by unidentified armed men at around 8 p.m.
“As a result, eight crew members were killed instantaneously while others were able to jump from the said boat top escape,” said Uy, quoting reports from Daud Bakil, chairman of Barangay Sangali.
Uy said that the attackers were composed of at least five armed men.
Bakil, along with Kevin Banahan also of Sangali, appeared before the task force to report the incident.
“The victims and the boat were brought to Sangali fish port for investigation,” said Uy.
Two of the crew members, identified as Nomar Sakandal and Ervin Banaan, were immediately rescued and were brought to Curuan police.
The five others were initially reported missing but, according to Uy, were rescued by combined elements of the Special Forces, 11Marine Battalion Landing Team and Coast Guard.
The military blamed “rido” or rivalry between two fishing groups as motive behind the attack.
However, the attackers were not identified.
“We are now closely looking and monitoring the developments in the area,” said Uy.
at 10-year high: watchdog
The number of maritime kidnappings hit a 10-year high in 2016, with waters off the southern Philippines becoming increasingly dangerous, the International Maritime Bureau said Tuesday.
While the overall number of pirate attacks has declined in recent years, the IMB said 62 people worldwide were kidnapped for ransom at sea last year compared to only 19 in 2015 and nine in 2014.
“The kidnapping of crew from ocean-going merchant vessels in the Sulu Sea and their transfer to the southern Philippines represents a notable escalation in attacks,” the IMB said in a report.
It urged shipowners to avoid the Sulu Sea, which lies between eastern Malaysia and the Philippines, by routing ships to the west of Borneo island.
In a string of incidents in the Sea last year, groups of armed men — said to be either from or linked to the Abu Sayyaf — ambushed ships and seized crew for ransom.
The Abu Sayyaf are based on remote and mountainous southern Philippine islands. Their leaders pledge allegiance to the Islamic State group, but analysts say they are more focused on lucrative kidnappings.
Noel Choong, head of the IMB’s Kuala Lumpur-based Piracy Reporting Center, said groups linked to militants were carrying out the kidnappings — particularly off West Africa and in the Sulu Sea.
Despite the rise in kidnappings, the number of overall pirate attacks continued to fall due to better policing and ships taking more precautions.
A total of 191 cases of piracy on the high seas was recorded in 2016 compared to 246 in 2015.
World piracy has been on the decline since 2012 after international naval patrols were launched off East Africa in response to a spate of violent assaults by Somali-based pirates and others.
The number of cases has also plummeted off Indonesia thanks to more efficient patrols.
Mario J. Mallari and AFP