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In an effort to assist ships unable to re-route away from the Sulu-Celebes Sea and eastern Sabah region, ReCAAP ISC has published a new guidance with measures to aid the prevention of crew abductions.

On 26 September 2019, the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia Information Sharing Centre (ReCAAP ISC) issued an Incident Alert following a crew abduction off Lahad Datu, Sabah, Malaysia. The full Incident Alert is available to download here.

This is the second incident of abduction of crew reported in the Sulu-Celebes Sea and eastern Sabah region in 2019, and the 30th such incident in the region since beginning of 2016. According to the ReCAAP ISC:

  • A total of 18 incidents of abduction of crew (12 actual and 6 attempted) were reported in 2016. In 2017, the number of incidents were reduced to 7 (3 actual and 4 attempted), and in 2018, the number of incidents were further reduced to 3 (2 actual and 1 attempted). And, so far in 2019, two actual incidents have been reported.
  • Due to their slow speed and low freeboard, tug boats and fishing vessels were the main victims in the actual incidents. However, most of the attempted incidents involved bigger ships such as bulk carriers and container ships.
  • Of the 30 incidents reported, 21 incidents occurred during daylight hours.
  • While the main motive of the perpetrators seems to be to abduct crew to demand ransom, theft of cash, personal belongings and ships’ equipment were also reported.
  • In most incidents, the perpetrators used speed boats to chase after the victim ships and carried firearms.

Despite the decrease in the number of incidents, and military and law enforcement efforts by the Philippine authorities, “perpetrators are still active in the region and looking for any opportunity to abduct crew from ships” warns ReCAAP ISC.

New guidebook and warning to stay alert

The Sulu-Celebes Sea and eastern Sabah region covers the tri-boundary area of the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia and its maritime sea lanes are strategically located with respect to international shipping. In an effort to raise the awareness and avoid further incidents of crew abductions in this region, ReCAAP ISC has now produced a new publication, the Guidance on Abduction of Crew in the Sulu-Celebes Seas and Waters off Eastern Sabah.

The guidance shares case studies of past incidents and advises on specific measures to be taken by ships while transiting the region. As a general principle, ships in waters off eastern Sabah and southern Philippines are recommended to re-route from the area. When this is not possible, ships’ masters and crews are advised to:

  • Navigate in the designated transit corridors and make the necessary reporting to the relevant monitoring. Annexes 1 and 2 of the new ReCAAP ISC Guidance list the coordinates of the transit corridors as well as the contact details for all monitoring stations.
  • Enhance vigilance and increase security watch rotations while transiting the area. Maintaining a proper, visual lookout is key.
  • Continuously monitor the advisories issued on NAVTEX.
  • Activate the vessel’s Automatic Identification System (AIS).
  • Control access to the bridge, accommodation and machinery spaces.
  • Sound the alarm if unknown people are sighted onboard the vessel or suspicious boats are seen in the vicinity.
  • Avoid confrontation with perpetrators.
  • Report the incident immediately to the Operation Centres of the Philippines and Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM) of Malaysia (see contact details below).

Ship operators and masters are also advised to adopt precautionary measures from general guidance contained in the Regional Guide to Counter Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia and the Global Counter Piracy Guidance for Companies, Masters and Seafarers, such as risk assessment, company planning, master’s planning, ship protection measures, measures when ships are under attack, etc. Crews must be briefed on the security arrangements identified in the Ship Security Plan and should conduct drills prior to arriving in an area of increased risk. Many attempted piracy and armed robbery attacks are unsuccessful, countered by ships’ crew who have planned and trained in advance.

Contact details

The contact details of the Operation Centres of the Philippines and ESSCOM of Malaysia are as follows:




In the event that those onboard are not able to establish contact with the Operation Centres of the Philippines as listed in the ReCAAP ISC Advisory, they can contact the Philippine Coast Guard Command Centre using the following contact details:

 Phone numbers:

  • +63-2-5273877 (direct)
  • +63-2-527-8481 to 89 (ext: 6136/37)
  • +63-917-724-3682 (mobile)
  • +63-929-825-3207 (mobile)

Email address:

  • pcgcomcen@coastguard.gov.ph