MANILA – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday said he had asked China to send naval or coast guard ships to patrol international waters off the southern Philippines to help in the fight against piracy.
In an address to military officers, the Philippine leader said he “asked China if they can patrol the international waters without necessarily intruding into the territorial waters of countries,” referring specifically to the Sulu Sea between Mindanao and Borneo.
“We would be glad if we have their presence there,” he added.
“And by the way, it doesn’t have to be gray ships. I said, even coast guard cutter will do, just to patrol like what they did in Somalia. They helped there. Somalia has toned down.”
China has actively participated in U.N. escort missions and anti-piracy operations off Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden since 2009, having dispatched 23 batches of naval fleets to escort over thousands of ships, according to Chinese government figures.
The International Maritime Bureau, in a report on piracy released Jan. 10, said that kidnappings of crew of oceangoing merchant vessels and slow-moving tugs and barges in the Sulu Sea “are a particular concern” and that it has advised ship owners and charterers to avoid that area.
It noted that some crew members kidnapped there were then transferred to the southern Philippines and held for ransom by armed men linked to the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group.
By contrast, there has been a sharp drop in attacks by the once-notorious Somali pirates off the coast of East Africa in recent years, which has partly been attributed to sea patrols by international navies.
The Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia have recently been cooperating to curb the rampant cross-border kidnapping-for-ransom activities blamed on rebels based in the southern Philippines.
Last May, they launched a coordinated naval patrol in the Sulu Sea area to this end, while they have also discussed allowing cross-border hot pursuit of pirates.
But the spate of kidnappings has continued.