By Bernadette Christina Munthe
JAKARTA, April 20 (Reuters) – Authorities from at least two Indonesian coal ports have blocked ships from leaving to the Philippines due to security concerns after a spate of ship hijackings in the southern Philippines, an Indonesian government official said on Wednesday.
The growing frequency of maritime attacks by Islamist militants is for the first time affecting coal trade between the Southeast Asian neighbours. Indonesia, the world’s largest thermal coal exporter, supplies 70 percent of the Philippines’ coal import needs.
“The situation in the Philippines is considered not safe and some of our ships were hijacked,” Umar Aris, Indonesia’s acting director general of sea transportation, told Reuters.
Shipping permits to the Philippines were no longer being approved at the ports of Banjarmasin and Tarakan in Indonesia’s Kalimantan, an area home to some of the biggest coal mines operated by Adaro Energy and Bumi Resources.
It was not clear how much of Indonesia’s coal exports were affected by the shipping restrictions at the two ports.
“Tomorrow, I’ll have a meeting with the Navy and State Intelligence Agency to further discuss the matter. We’re trying to find the best solution,” Aris said.
Indonesia has already called for joint maritime patrols with the Philippines and Malaysia following the attacks.
A total of 18 crew members from Indonesia and Malaysia have been taken captive in three separate attacks on tugboats in Philippine waters close to maritime borders with the two countries.
Among those kidnapped were 10 crew members on a vessel carrying coal from Banjarmasin, the main port in South Kalimantan province, said the Kompas newspaper.
Indonesian media reports on Tuesday quoted an Indonesian minister as saying a Taiwanese firm would pay to free the 10 crew members held by Abu Sayyaf rebels.
The Abu Sayyaf, known for kidnappings, beheadings, bombings and extortion, has demanded 50 million pesos ($1.1 million) for the freedom of the Indonesian crew. The al Qaeda-linked group is one of the most hardline Islamist militant groups in the Muslim south of the largely Christian Philippines.
A Philippine military spokesman on Wednesday urged that no ransom be paid as it could encourage the emergence of a kidnap “industry”. (Additional reporting by Fergus Jensen in Jakarta and Manuel Mogato in Manila; Writing by Randy Fabi; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Mark Potter)
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