WATCH | Pirates hunted in massacre of 8 fishing boat crewmen off Zamboanga
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(UPDATED W/VIDEO) MANILA - Government security forces are hunting gunmen who killed eight fishing boat crewmen off Zamboanga City Monday night, in what the Philippine Coast Guard called an attack by pirates.
Reports received by the Zamboanga City Police Office said the incident took place around 8 p.m. Monday in the vicinity of Siromon Island, Barangay Dita, 42 kilometers east of Zamboanga.
"We consider this a piracy attack. If these were Islamist militants, they would have been taken captive and held for ransom," Coast guard spokesman Commander Armand Balilo said.
An initial report from the Police Regional Office 9 (PRO9) identified the two survivors as Nomar Sakandal and Erwin Banahan, who were rescued by passing fellow fishermen.
Police said the two were brought to the Curuan Police Station for immediate medical assistance.
The names of the fatalities, crewmen of the F/B NR based out of Barangay Sangali, some 25 kilometers east of the city, were not immediately available.
Seven other crewmen survived when they jumped overboard and swam to safety.
The police said the fishing boat was on its way back to Sangali from Sibuktuk Island when five gunmen aboard two motorboats locally known as “jungkung” accosted them, taking their cash and valuables, including mobile phones, and then opening fire.
According to the military, the attack may have been an offshoot of a “rido” or clan war.
“The AFP received word that this was a case of rido between families in coastal fishing areas in Zamboanga City (particularly Barangays Dita and Curuan). Police and supporting AFP units from the Western Mindanao Command are now looking into it,” Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said in a statement.
Because of the incident, the PCG called on the shipping lines crossing Zamboanga del Sur and the Moro Gulf in Mindanao to exercise caution.
Aside from possibly adding sea marshals, the Coast Guard plans to expand its patrol of the area.
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The apparent attack by pirates came as Philippine soldiers were given a six-month deadline to end Islamist militant threats, including those made on cargo ships in south, where a long-festering insurgency has been exacerbated by the growing influence of the Islamic State militant group.
About two dozen sailors and tourists were taken captive by Islamist militants last year in attacks on tug boats and yachts in the Celebes and Sulu seas, raising concerns among defense officials from Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines about Islamist militancy and piracy.
Coast guard spokesman Balilo said a Filipino fishing boat with 15 crew on board was operating off Laud Siromon island near the Zamboanga peninsula on Monday night when five armed men on a speed boat attacked them.
"The attackers opened fire at the fishermen," Balilo said.
He said eight were killed and another five men jumped overboard and swam to a nearby island. Two others who remained on the boat were unharmed, according to the Coast Guard version.
Balilo said the attackers fled in the darkness and two coast guard ships were sent to the area to search for them.
Last month, a container ship repulsed an attack by members of the Islamic State-linked Abu Sayyaf group who attempted to board the vessel and abduct the crew, the coast guard has said.
DND chief's target
Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana said the military had been ordered to end threats from Abu Sayyaf within six months, with more troops to be poured into the area while a ceasefire agreement with Maoist-led guerrillas holds.
"That is our target," Lorenzana told reporters. "We will just have to do all we can, combining military operations and developmental projects to end what they are doing," he said.
The small but violent Abu Sayyaf group, known in the south for kidnapping, extortion, and beheadings, has been holding about two dozen captives, including Dutch, German, Japanese, Indonesian, Malaysian and Vietnamese nationals. (With a report by Jaime Sinapit, InterAksyon)