DAVAO CITY –- After two and a half months moving around with armed men in an unfamiliar place, the Korean ship captain and the Filipino crew who were abducted last October 21 were finally released by their captors on Saturday morning in Jolo, Sulu.
Ship captain Chul Hong Park from South Korea and crew member Glenn Alindajao from Cebu, both working for South Korean cargo ship Dong Bang Giant 2, were turned over by former Sulu governor Sakur Tan to Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Jesus Dureza at Jolo Airport at past 10 a.m Saturday.
Dureza, who presented Park and Alindajao in a press conference at Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) shortly upon arrival at the old Davao Airport, said the two were abducted by at least 10 armed men, who boarded the 11,400-ton Korean cargo ship while sailing from Australia to South Korea along the southern entry of the Sibutu Passage, a 29-kilometer (18-mile) wide channel used by merchant shipping in transit between the Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea. On board the ship were 20 crews (16 Filipinos and 4 Koreans including the ship captain.
As told by Alindajao, Dureza said other crews were able to lock up their cabins when the armed men boarded the ship. Park and Alindajao were taken to a place on board a speed boat.
“It was only today that they knew they were in Sulu,” Dureza told reporters. He said the first time they (victims) were told they were in Basilan.
From the first armed group reportedly led by a certain Abraham, Dureza said the two were turned over to another group of armed men. Abraham was later reported killed in a military pursuit operations against the Abu Sayyaf.
He said Park and Alindajao were turned over to several armed groups. Sometimes they find their selves in a community. At times, they slept under the trees in the forest.
Dureza added that Park and Alindajao were already hopeless and were not fine. They also need to undergo trauma counseling.
Dureza could not confirm if the armed men are members of the Abu Sayyaf Group. “I can’t speculate,” he said. He also said there was no ransom money in exchange for their freedom as it has always been a no-ransom policy for the government.
He stressed that ransom must not be paid because encourages more kidnap-for-ransom activities.
When asked by reporters at the press conference, a representative of the Korean ship company, Kim Yangjun said the company did not pay money in exchange for the release. Why should we pay?” he asked.
The negotiations for the release of Park and Alindajao were a joint efforts of concerned individuals and the help of Moro national Liberation front (MNLF) under the guidance of Chair Nur Misuari.
“I do not know the details of how they were released. They were just turned over to me by Tan,” Dureza said, although negotiations started after their abduction.
On his way to Jolo, Dureza said he right away informed President Rodrigo Duterte through special Assistant to the President (SAP) Christopher “Bong” Go.
ASEAN, gov’t concern
The incident was the first kidnapping on a merchant ship. It was even regarded by the International Maritime Bureau’s Malaysia-based Piracy Reporting Center as a landmark incident.
According to Dureza, Alindajao was suggesting that a state security force must be onboard ships to counter kidnapping on open seas.
Dureza said this can be raised to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for a common policy on addressing such issues. He admitted that the spate of kidnappings in the open sea is embarrassing to the Philippine government.
While continued military operations is an option to crush the kidnap-for-ransom groups, Dureza said there should also be an enabling environment for the community in these areas through a massive social intervention and a business investment environment to address poverty. He said the people there feel they are left out.
Based on the statement of Alindajao that they were even welcomed by people in the community mostly young people, Dureza said the communities seem to be benefiting from kidnapping.
“This is worrisome if the young are involved,” he added.
Dureza said there are still 27 hostages in the hands of armed groups in different places.
Korean Consul Yong Jeung Park said there is a need for the Philippine government to ensure that commercial vessels can go safely in the open sea. While most parts of the Philippines are safe, there are some areas which are considered dangerous.
But Mr. Park was thankful to President Duterte and Dureza for the safe release of the kidnap victims.
Alindajao, who was already excited to be with his family waiting in Cebu, admitted he was already hopeless he can return home safely.
He was thankful to God, President Duterte and Dureza for the efforts to get them safe from their abductors. Lilian Mellejor/PNA-northboundasia.com