On Monday, Indonesian forces rescued a Singapore-flagged vessel that had been hijacked off of Borneo, according to agency reports.
Nine suspected pirates were detained for questioning, and 20 crew and one passenger were released.
No injuries or damage were reported.
Navy spokesman Edi Sucipto said that the motive for the attack was to steal some 50,000 gallons of oil by transferring it to another vessel.
Authorities grew suspicious when they noticed that a ship had disappeared off of Automatic Identification System (AIS) and radar, then reappeared elsewhere transmitting a different vessel name.
They sent a patrol ship and halted the hijacking in progress.
Indonesia has been a hot spot for maritime piracy for years; in recent months, it has seen an uptick from a new source – attacks by Islamist militant group Abu Sayyaf, which is based out of an archipelago south of Mindanao, the Philippines, but has begun hijackings and kidnappings in Indonesian and Malaysian waters as well.
Authorities did not implicate Abu Sayyaf in Monday’s attack.
Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines recently reached an agreement for joint naval patrols to combat the threat.
In addition, the Indonesian National Shipowners Association has recommended bow and stern watches when traveling through areas within Abu Sayyaf’s range of attack, plus the use of ship convoys – a practice typically associated with wartime operations.
Abu Sayyaf is notorious for kidnappings, backed up by a willingness to execute captives, and has earned millions of dollars in ransoms. It has acquired modern equipment with its ill-gotten gains; Philippine authorities also say that its earnings have given it the means to employ a sizeable fraction of the local population on its island strongholds, making it difficult to combat the group on its own terrain.
The group recently released 10 Indonesian crewmembers captured in the hijacking of a tug.
Sailors’ Society chaplain Muhartono Tito, who is based in the Indonesian port of Banjarmasin, provided welfare assistance to the seafarers’ families during the crew’s five weeks in captivity.
“They were incredibly worried about the safety of their loved ones. When news broke that the terrorists had freed the men, I called their family members who were incredibly grateful,” he said.
An unnamed crewmember told Sailors’ Society that “we were very stressed because they frequently threatened to slit our throats”.
Muhartono said: “Although they are all home safely, it is a real possibility that both the seafarers and their families will be suffering from stress after this traumatic incident. I have offered counselling and have asked the ship owner to give the seafarers a grace of period of a month to recover.”
Despite their ordeal, the seafarers are reportedly in good physical health.
Not all have been so lucky: their release comes a week after Abu Sayyaf beheaded Canadian businessman John Ridsdel.
According to authorities, Abu Sayyaf are still holding at least 11 people hostage.
The three South-East countries of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines recently met and agreed to conduct coordinated maritime patrols in the Sulu and Sulawesi Seas after a spate of kidnappings.
Southern Philippines has been hit by ship hijackings by Islamist militants.
Joint patrols could involve ships from the three navies patrolling together and crossing into each other’s territorial waters.
Most of the piracy in the area is the work of militants from the Abu Sayyaf group operating out of lawless Philippine islands.
Indonesia has warned that the problem could reach levels seen off Somalia.
Indonesian port authorities in some areas have stopped issuing permits to ships taking coal through the southern Philippines because of the attacks.
“We will undertake coordinated patrols in the maritime areas of our common concern,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said after a meeting of the countries’ military chiefs and foreign ministers in the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta.
The southern Philippines shares maritime borders with Indonesia and Malaysia and they signed an agreement in 2002 to strengthen border security in response to increasing cross-border attacks by militants of the Abu Sayyaf group, but they have yet to mount coordinated naval patrols.
Coordinated patrols involve voyages by the different navies operating in their own territorial waters.
Indonesia called for joint maritime patrols, which would involve ships from the three navies patrolling together and crossing into each other’s territorial waters.
However, the Philippines said that it wanted separate but coordinated patrols to identify safe corridors where ships can travel.
Indonesia is the world’s largest thermal coal exporter and supplies 70 per cent of the Philippines’ coal imports.
Secretary-General of the Indonesian National Shipowners Association, Budhi Halim, who recommended that crews should maintain a double watch (bow and stern) when travelling through high risk areas, said : “Secondly, they must move in a convoy, don’t travel alone.”
Abu Sayyaf militants have become notorious for kidnapping over the past 15 years or so and have earned millions of dollars in ransoms.
They have acquired modern weapons, high-powered boats and communications equipment.
The Indonesian Foreign Minister said that the neighbours would also set up a hotline to improve cooperation and share intelligence.
“We share the urgent need to take action to ensure our citizens feel protected in undertaking their activities in the area,” Marsudi said.
Procedures for the patrols in the Sulu and Celebes seas would be worked out at a follow-up meeting, according to her.
Analysts say $40 billion worth of cargo passes through those waters a year, including supertankers from the Indian Ocean that cannot use the crowded Malacca Strait.
The militants, who hold more than a dozen foreigners, were in the past linked to al Qaeda and have more recently voiced support for Islamic State (IS).
The United States (US) advises the Philippine military.
Since 2006, the US has provided nearly $200 million in military aid to strengthen naval forces of the three Southeast Asian countries to combat piracy and militancy.
Chairman of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), Hanafi Rustandi, said that many vessels are also employing armed security guards.
Usually the Abu Sayyaf, the hijackers use small boats which can fit only four to five people, and the armed guards will be able to deal with them, according to him.
Until now, the extra cost of employing guards has deterred some ship managers from using them.
The Indonesian Shipowners Association provides some assistance to the local industry, as it has a protection and indemnity fund to cover ransom money paid to kidnappers.
Abu Sayyaf militants in the southern Philippines recently released 10 Indonesian seafarers, ending a month-long ordeal during which a kidnapped Canadian held by the same group was beheaded after a ransom deadline passed.
The growing frequency of maritime attacks has affected coal trade between the South-East Asian neighbors Indonesia, the world’s largest thermal coal exporter, and the Philippines, which, relies on Jakarta for 70 per cent of its coal imports.
Abu Sayyaf, known for kidnappings, beheadings, bombings and extortion, is one of the most brutal militant groups in Muslim south of the largely Christian Philippines.
Outgoing Philippines’ President Benigno Aquino has promised to devote his remaining days in office to crushing the militants.