•  The Sulu faction of the ASG kidnapped more than 50 foreign victims in 2016, compared with five known victims in 2015
  •  Successful offshore kidnaps-for-ransom trebled in frequency between October and December 2016, compared with the first nine months of the year
  •  In 2016 the Isnilon Hapilon-led Basilan faction of the ASG aligned with Islamic State (IS) and Hapilon was appointed as IS’s South-east Asia emir, which has increased the group’s profile among regional Islamist extremists and resulted in the use of more extreme tactics.
  • Two abductions from general cargo vessels in October and November were the first offshore kidnaps in the region in the past ten years from larger merchant vessels

London - The Philippines-based Islamist extremist Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) has been responsible for a surge in offshore abductions in the southern Sulu and northern Celebes Seas over the last 12 months. The group kidnapped more than 50 foreign victims in more than 20 separate attacks during 2016, compared with five known foreign victims in 2015.

The change in kidnapping tactics by the ASG has significantly impacted the number of incidents recorded. Between February and September, ASG kidnappers exclusively targeted local fishing vessels and tugs, exploiting the relative lack of on board security measures to successfully abduct crew members. From October, Control Risks recorded a notable increase in the targeting of general cargo vessels, bulk carriers and chemical tankers. When compared with February to September, kidnapping rates trebled in frequency between October and December. This surge in maritime attacks is significant and has started to affect regional supply chains.

A temporary moratorium was imposed on coal transports from Indonesia to the Philippines amid ongoing fears of crew abductions, while the security of crew on tanker and cargo ships transiting between Australia and North Asia has also been called into question.

Sebastian Villyn, Maritime Risk Analyst at Control Risks comments that, “The regional governments and the shipping industry were understandably quite unprepared for this sudden change in the security environment, and many thought it was a fleeting trend. However, recent successes have emboldened the kidnapping group, and we can see that it’s impacting the wider supply chain. Some vessels sailing from Australia to East Asia are now rerouting to avoid the area. Indonesia’s moratorium on coal transports to the Philippines has been revised, but continues to apply to vessels of a certain size.”