Armed men believed to be members of the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf stormed a Vietnamese-flagged cargo ship off the Philippine island province of Basilan early Friday, abducting six Vietnamese nationals, including the ship captain.
The ship MV Royal 16 was sailing near Sibago Island in the town of Mohammad Ajul in Basilan when the attackers approached them from a speedboat, Rappler reported, citing the local Philippine Coast Guard.
Do Tuan Anh, head of citizen protection at the Consular Department under the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, confirmed to Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper at 2:15pm the same day that he had been briefed of the incident.
Anh said his agency is working with the Vietnamese Embassy in the Philippines and the National Committee for Search and Rescue to verify the identity of the victim ship.
Different Vietnamese agencies are also contacting their counterparts in Philippines on search and rescue plans for the abducted Vietnamese sailors.
According to information gathered and verified by Tuoi Tre, the victim ship is a cargo vessel operated by Quy Sang Co., located in the northern Vietnamese province of Thai Binh.
At the time of the attack, there were 19 sailors on board. It is believed that the ship captain and his assistant are among the six hostages. The gunmen also wounded one sailor.
In an urgent dispatch released on Friday afternoon, the Vietnam Marine Administration said the gunmen had released the ship and the remaining 13 sailors, after abducting six of them.
The hostages are the captain, his three assistants, the crew chief and one sailor.
Upon being released, MV Royal 16 has docked safely at the Philippine port Zamboanga. Philippine coast guard forces are handling the case, according to the Vietnam Marine Administration.
It is not immediately clear where the hostages were taken to.
According to Rappler, after being informed of the incident, the Philippine Coast Guard had sent a nearby cargo ship, Philippines’ MV Lorcon Iloilo to provide assistance to the MV Royal 16.
The wounded sailor on the MV Royal 16 was given first aid from the MV Lorcon Iloilo, according to Inquirer.
Philippine newswire Mindanao Examiner said it is suspected that Abu Sayyaf rebels were behind the hijack.
Basilan is one of five provinces within the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.