RI tugboat, crew held by Abu Sayyaf

The Indonesian Government is still verifying reports that an Indonesian tugboat has been hijacked and its crew members are being held hostage by Philippine militant group Abu Sayyaf.

However, two Philippine military officials have already confirmed the report, saying that the militants demanded an undisclosed amount of ransom money from the boat’s owner, as reported by Reuters from Manila.

The tugboat Brahma 12 was allegedly hijacked by the Abu Sayyaf group on Saturday while en route to the Philippines from Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan.

The tugboat was allegedly attacked in Jolo Island in the southern region of the Philippines, the home of the Abu Sayyaf group.

Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arrmanatha Nasir said the ministry was still verifying the information. “We hope that we will have a comment on it tomorrow [Tuesday],” he said.

Meanwhile, Indonesian Navy spokesman Cmdr. Edi Sucipto, refused to issue any statement on the matter, saying it was not within the Navy’s jurisdiction to comment.

“It is not the authority of the Navy [to comment on the matter],” he said.

Information about the hijacking first came to light via the Facebook account of the boat’s captain, Peter Tonsen Barahama.

Some friends read Peter’s status saying “Tug boat Brahma 12 is being hijacked, all crew are being held hostage by Abu Sayyaf. Pray for our safety and God’s protection.”

The information then spread to an Indonesian sailors group. However, Peter’s friends have not been able to contact him to obtain further information. Peter is from Sangihe, North Sulawesi.

“The tug boat is carrying coal,” a friend of Peter, Welmy Loway said.

Welmy and friends contacted the Foreign Ministry and Sangihe local authorities to check the information and seek help for the crew.

A member of the North Sulawesi Legislative Council, Marvel Dick Makagansa, responded to the plea by urging the Foreign Ministry to take swift action to protect the Indonesian citizens.

“This is a priority case to be solved through a meeting with fellow councilors from the PDI-P faction,” said Marvel, whose electoral district covers the regencies of Sangihe, Sitaro and Talaud.

“We urge the Foreign Ministry and other related agencies to solve the problem as soon as possible.”

He also said that he hoped that all the crew and skipper Peter Tonsen Barahama were in a healthy condition.

The tugboat is owned by Patria Maritime Lines, which is still negotiating to secure the release of the crew from the militant group, which has asked for a ransom of 50 million pesos (US$1.08 million), according to Peter.

According to reports, all crew members have been transferred to an island and are being treated “humanely”.

In contrast to other accounts, Reuters reported that the crew were operating a privately owned Taiwanese tugboat on its way from Jakarta to Manila when it was hijacked near the Malaysian border.

The crew managed to call their employer to inform them of the hijacking, but the exact location of the incident remains unknown, officials said.

Abu Sayyaf, known for kidnappings, beheadings, bombings and extortion, is one of the most hard-line militant groups in the Muslim south of the largely Christian Philippines.

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