The Philippines is seeking help from China and the United States to patrol a major sea lane against increasing threats by Islamic militants on international shipping, The Manila Times Online reported on Thursday.
Coast guard officials said they did not want the Sibutu Passage between Malaysia’s Sabah state and the southern Philippines to turn into a Somalia-style pirate haven.
The deep-water channel, used by about 13,000 vessels each year, offers the fastest route between Australia and the manufacturing powerhouses China, Japan and South Korea, the officials added.
“If ship owners will skirt that area just to avoid kidnap at sea activities by these terrorists, for sure, it will have an additional cost,” Philippine Coast Guard chief Commodore Joel Garcia said.
Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzano said on Tuesday that Manila plans to ask the US to hold joint exercises in waters off the southern Philippines to address the problem.
Last week, President Rodrigo Duterte urged China to launch patrols off the piracy-prone waters, citing Beijing’s dispatch of a naval convoy to the Gulf of Aden in 2009 to protect Chinese ships from Somali pirates.
Indonesia has warned that the region could become the “next Somalia” and the International Maritime Bureau says waters off the southern Philippines are becoming increasing dangerous.
The Philippine coast guard recorded 12 piracy or kidnapping incidents in the passage in the last six months, on top of four unsuccessful attempts to board vessels by gunmen.