Indonesia fears the piracy threat will soon resemble that near Somalia. Source: YouTube
Jakarta has expressed fears about piracy along its maritime border with the Philippines, saying it could reach Somalian levels and that vessels should avoid target spots.
The route carries an estimated US$40 billion worth of cargo a year and is used by supertankers from the Indian Ocean that cannot use the congested Malacca Strait.
At least two Indonesian coal ports have suspended deliveries to the Philippines.
Up to 18 Indonesians and Malaysians have been seized in three attacks in Philippine waters by groups with suspected links to the Abu Sayyaf terror group.
Abu Sayyaf, which has pledged allegiance to Isis, has demanded 50 million pesos (US$1.1 million) to free the Indonesian sailors.
Indonesia hopes negotiations over the hostages will produce results in the next 10 days, said Vice President Jusuf Kalla.
“We hope that before the end of the month a good solution will emerge from talks between our security officials and those of the Philippines,” he said.
Jakarta also hopes that the Philippines will give security guarantees to vessels in the Philippine waters.
“Certainly there must be an assurance that ships from Indonesia that pass through that country’s waters will not be hijacked again,” he said. “It is about security cooperation, which can be conducted through joint patrolling or the escorting out of ships. It is still being discussed.”
“We don’t want to see this become a new Somalia,” Indonesia’s security minister Luhut Pandjaitan told the media.
The Sulu Sea is the region being targeted.
Somali piracy has reduced in recent years, mainly due to the hiring of private security firms and the presence of international warships.
The foreign ministers of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines were due to meet in Jakarta to discuss joint patrols, Pandjaitan told reporters, adding that armed forces chiefs would meet in the Indonesian capital on May 3.
Indonesia’s navy was telling commercial vessels “to avoid piracy-prone waters around the southern Philippines” and it was increasing patrols around Indonesia’s eastern maritime borders “to prevent acts of piracy and hijacking”, naval spokesman Tatang Sulaiman said.
The Kuala Lumpur-based Piracy Reporting Centre has also warned ships sailing in the Celebes Sea and northeast of the Malaysian state of Sabah on Borneo to avoid small boats.
More trade suspensions were expected, said Pandu Sjahrir, director of Jakarta-listed coal producer Toba Bara Sejahtera.
The firm had suspended all shipments to the Philippines, he said, and other firms were cancelling deliveries.
Indonesia, the world’s largest thermal coal exporter, last year provided 70 per cent of the Philippines’ coal imports of about 15 million tonnes, valued at approximately US$800 million.
The Philippines may look to import coal from Australia, South Africa and Russia instead.