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Filipino gunmen terrorising shipping lanes

A group of Filipino gunmen is believed to be on a "hijacking spree"...

A group of Filipino gunmen is believed to be on a "hijacking spree" on international sealanes, hitting six vessels on Wednesday with two still being held at different locations in the Philippines.
Intelligence sources said that a tugboat ferrying marble from Tawau to Labuan was seized by gunmen in international waters off Sandakan at 7pm.

The tugboat and its trawler were being taken to Bangukan Besar in the Philippines where the gunmen were demanding a RM45,000 ransom.

Another group is holding a fishing trawler in Lihiman Island and demanding a RM5,000 for the release of the boat and crew.

It is learnt that the respective owners are negotiating for the release of their boats though no official report has been lodged with police or any of the security forces in Sabah.

The group had earlier released a tugboat with six crew members and a barge for a ransom of RM25,000 and also three other fishing trawlers after the respective owners paid RM5,000 each.

The tugboat crew from Kudat was released five hours after the ransom was paid.

The Sandakan-based barge and tugboat owners delivered the payment to the gunmen off the Philippine island of Lagahan late on Wednesday.

The Royal Malaysian Navy and marine police have heightened security along Malaysian waters after word of the incident spread.

The hijack drama unfolded in international waters off the Philippine island of Lagawan when armed men in a fishing trawler, believed stolen, approached the tugboat pulling a barge with Agathis logs about 2pm.

After they took over the vessels, Ang Tung Ching, 46,--the foreman of Syarikat Pengangkutan Boo Hin Sdn Bhd which owns the barge and tugboat--received a call from the boat skipper, identified only as Rupia, with news that the gunmen wanted money for their release.

About 3pm, Rupia radioed again saying the gunmen were threatening to blow up the boat if payment was not made by Wednesday night.

"I immediately notified our manager of the situation. Fearing the worst, my employer Chan Poo Lim instructed me and another tugboat skipper Wahid Ebat to leave and secure the release of our crew and vessels," Ang said.