Ten Indonesian sailors have been kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf militant group in southern Philippines after hijacking a ship in which they were traveling, Philippine authorities confirmed on Tuesday.
The commander of a military-led task force in the Philippines’ Muslim south told reporters that suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf militant group boarded the vessel over the weekend, and held the crew at gunpoint while towing it with a smaller boat.
According to Major General Demy Tejares, deputy commander of the Task Force Zambasulta, the victims were crewmembers of a tugboat and abduction occurred off Tapul town of the nearby island province of Sulu - located near the Malaysian border.
"There is information pointing to Sulu as the destination so we're monitoring it," Tejares said of the predominantly Muslim province 590 miles (950 kilometers) south of Manila, where several kidnapping victims are believed to be held in the jungles by Abu Sayyaf militants.
The military has been conducting operations against the group - which has pledged allegiance to DAESH - including a major offensive during the Lenten Season in Al Barka town of nearby Basilan province.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told a news conference she is working with Indonesian officials and Philippine authorities to coordinate a rescue.
"Our priority is the safety of 10 Indonesian nationals who are now still in the hands of the hostage takers," she said.
Last week, a major Abu Sayyaf camp was captured and three Abu Sayyaf militants killed in clashes that also saw seven soldiers injured, according to Tejares.
Earlier this month, a video posted on Facebook showing the three thin, bearded and handcuffed men appealing to their governments for help, saying that if their kidnappers' demands for P1-billion ($21.3 million) ransom for each hostage are not met they will be killed on April 8.
Other foreign hostages believed to be held by Abu Sayyaf-linked groups include a Dutch man abducted more than three years ago in Tawi-Tawi and a former Italian priest seized last year.