On Tuesday morning, the Philippine Coast Guard foiled an attempted pirate attack on the cargo vessel Doña Anabelle. The attempted boarding occurred off Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte – over 50 nm to the north of the Sulu archipelago, the epicenter of recent pirate attacks in the region.
Regional police chief Billy Beltran told the Inquirer that armed fighters on two motorboats fired at the vessel off the village of Santa Maria, Siocon. Zamboanga Coast Guard Station Commander Alvin Dagale told the Philippine Sun Star that the attackers fled when military patrol vessels approached. None of the crew were injured, and the responders escorted the Anabelle for the remainder of her voyage to Zamboanga City.
Beltran said that the affiliation of the attackers is not yet known, and the incident is under investigation.
The ISIS-aligned terrorist group Abu Sayyaf (ASG) has made the waters between the Philippines and Malaysia among the most dangerous in the world for maritime piracy. The group is believed to be holding about 20 seafarers hostage, a number that has fallen in recent weeks due to a series of escapes, rescues and executions.
While its activities have been focused on the Sulu Archipelago, a group of ASG fighters recently mounted an operation on the island of Bohol, several hundred miles to the north – potentially a reflection of increasing pressure from the military and law enforcement. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is engaged in a full-scale campaign against ASG on the ground in Sulu and Basilan, and the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia have announced joint naval patrols to suppress the group's activities in the waters between Tawi Tawi and Sabah. Japan has offered to provide the Philippines with military advisors and small pursuit boats, and Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte has even invited the Chinese navy and coast guard to help patrol the area.