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Suspected Filipino militants kidnap 6 Vietnamese sailors

Associated Press Associated Press 11/11/2016 By JIM GOMEZ and TRAN VAN MINH, Associated Press

MANILA, Philippines — Suspected Abu Sayyaf militants attacked a Vietnamese cargo ship and kidnapped its captain and five crewmen off the southern Philippine island of Basilan early Friday, in the latest in a wave of sea assaults that have alarmed the region's leaders.

About 10 gunmen boarded the MV Royal 16 at dawn off southern Basilan island, where the Abu Sayyaf is active, then fled with their captives in a speedboat, regional military spokesman Maj. Filemon Tan said, citing crewmen from another ship, MV Lorcon Iloilo, who provided help to the Vietnamese ship after the attack.

Tan said ransom-seeking Abu Sayyaf militants are suspected in the raid.

In Vietnam, the Tuoi Tre newspaper said the MV Royal 16 was on its way to Indonesia from Vietnam's northern port city of Hai Phong with 19 crew members and a cargo of cement when it was attacked.

The ship sent an alert at 3:31 a.m. when it was about 18 kilometers (12 miles) southwest of Basilan, the newspaper said, adding that six crew members were kidnapped.

After the attack, the cargo ship anchored safely at Zamboanga port, near Basilan, with the remaining 13 crew members, including one who suffered gunshot wounds in the arm, the newspaper said.

A Vietnam Maritime Administration official confirmed the attack, but gave no details. The Vietnamese agency has asked regional and international anti-piracy agencies for help.

Friday's attack happened a day after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak discussed ways to deal with the spike in piracy incidents.

Najib said at a news conference in Malaysia that Duterte had agreed to allow Malaysian security forces to enter Philippine waters while in "hot pursuit" of kidnappers.

"The 'hot pursuit' is a new development, this has been agreed to by President Duterte and President Jokowi and now with me," Najib said, referring to Indonesian leader Joko "Jokowi" Widodo. "So the three countries will work to make it into a new standard operating procedure."

"I appreciate him (Duterte) because it's a very practical way of us helping each other because we really need to stamp out this kidnap for ransom because it is affecting the welfare, the security of not only the Sabahans but also foreigners who visit us in Sabah," Najib said, referring to the Malaysian state on Borneo island near the southern Philippines.

After flying back to the Philippines, Duterte refused to provide details when asked about his discussion with Najib on the mounting number of attacks at sea.

Duterte has said the attacks embarrass him because the Abu Sayyaf perpetrators are based on the southern Philippine island of Jolo, an impoverished region where the militants hold their hostages for ransom.

During a recent visit to Indonesia, Duterte said he discussed possible security strategies with Widodo.

Despite talks by the three countries on ratcheting up security, Abu Sayyaf gunmen and allied militants — part of a wider Muslim rebellion that has been raging in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation for decades — have continued attacks at sea this year, kidnapping Malaysian and Indonesian crewmen of slow-moving tugboats that are mostly pulling coal barges.

The security talks are complicated because the Philippines and Malaysia have had territorial issues, and questions have arisen about how far Malaysian authorities chasing militants can go as they approach Philippine territory. In initial talks, the countries have considered establishing a more secure sea lane for commercial vessels as well as coordinated law enforcement actions, including sea and air patrols.

Indonesia has restricted coal shipments to the Philippines because of the danger.

Although most of their targets have been tugboats, which are easy to board, the militants attacked an ocean-going South Korean cargo ship for the first time about two weeks ago off southern Tawi Tawi province, near Sulu, abducting its South Korean skipper and a Filipino crewman.

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Minh reported from Hanoi, Vietnam.

AP video journalist Syawalludin Zain in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, contributed to this report.

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