ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews/25 March) – Fishing companies here are rethinking their security strategies in the light of the abduction of three crew members of a boat owned by a canned sardine manufacturer in this city in the seas of Sulu last week.
“Before it was just extortion, but now they are resorting to kidnapping. This is a new trend that needs new security strategy to prevent the repetition of such incident,” said Eugene C. Yap, president of the Southern Philippines Deep Sea Fishing Association (Sophil).
Three crew members of Mega Fishing Corp., a sardines exporter, were forcibly taken onboard their light boat near Menes Island in the town of Panglima Tahil in Sulu last Saturday evening. The military believed that the abduction could be the handiwork of the notorious Abu Sayyaf Group, which is active in the Sulu province.
Mega Fishing president William Tiu Lim said they have already coordinated with Mayor Celso L. Lobregat and other authorities for the immediate release of its crew. He added that it was the first such case his company encountered.
Contrary to police reports, Lim said they are still waiting for the armed men to communicate with them.
He said that despite the incident, their fishing operation continues. “We are in a difficult situation since we have to fish to comply with export demand,” Lim stressed.
Yap described the abduction as “alarming” and is urging authorities to beef up maritime security.
“Harassments and extortions are perennial problems that we need to end,” he said, adding that issues could affect the fishing industry in the Zamboanga Peninsula region.
The fishing and sardines industries in the city contributes roughly P3 billion annually to the local economy, and gives employment to thousands of people.
Sardines caught by Sophil members’ fishing boats comprise the raw materials for the 13 canning factories in this city that corners about 90 percent of the domestic market.
Yap said they have earlier initiated some security measures to include the security escorts from the Philippine Navy during fishing operations.
“In the weeks to come, we are going to talk with Navy officials and other concerned government agencies to address this problem. On our end, we are finalizing our new security strategies, too,” he said.
Armed men in Western Mindanao have been on a kidnapping spree despite measures from the military and police. In recent months alone, three kidnapping incidents have been recorded. Kidnapping is not uncommon in the areas of Basilan and Sulu, and some parts of Zamboanga Peninsula. (Darwin Wally Wee / Peace Advocates Zamboanga)