Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines will begin conducting joint coordinated maritime patrols in a crucial economic waterway after kidnappings by suspected Abu Sayyaf militants.
High-ranking diplomatic and military officials from the three nations reached an agreement Thursday in the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta.
The three nations share maritime borders along the Sulu and Celebes seas, through which 55 million tons of goods and over 18 million people pass each year.
We recognize the threats from the armed robbery against ships, kidnapping, and other trans-national crimes, if not addressed appropriately, can undermine the confidence in trade and commerce in our region in general," said Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi.
“The agreement is an important political message for us, for the region and for the world," he added. "That the three countries directly affected by security challenges in the region could quickly hold a meeting to respond to the challenges together.”
The triumvirate will set up a hotline to better communicate during emergency situations, provide immediate assistance to the safety of people and ships in distress, and intensify information and intelligence sharing.
The agreement comes just days after the southern Philippine-based Abu Sayyaf militant group released 10 Indonesian sailors held captive since March.
Abu Sayyaf began as an insurgent group calling for a separate Muslim state and in the 1990s it received seed money from al-Qaida.
The group has since resorted to kidnapping foreign tourists and holding them for ransom as authorities intensified operations against terror groups following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in the United States.
The group beheaded Canadian national John Ridsel last month, after a $6.5 million ransom for him was not received.
Munarsih Sahana of VOA Indonesian Service contributed reporting from Jakarta.