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Philippines seen increasingly under threat from maritime terrorism

Monday, 08-Sep-2003 2:40AM PDT
Story from AFP
Copyright 2003 by Agence France-Presse (via ClariNet)

MANILA, Sept 8 (AFP) - The Philippines has been identified as among countries increasingly under threat from maritime terrorist attacks, the country's Coast Guard warned in report to be presented at an Asia-Pacific security forum.

Deadly bombings of an airport and a wharf in the southern Philippine city of Davao that left nearly 50 dead earlier this year could be a "prelude to a similar attack" on vessels visiting the country, according to the briefing paper.

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The paper is to be presented before an Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum meeting on maritime security cooperation on Tuesday.

It said the continuing threat of terrorism worldwide have "raised concern" over the safety of vessels and local ports.

"Perhaps our biggest worries are terrorism and piracy and armed robbery against ships," the coast guard said, noting that the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) has also identified Manila as among 26 city ports and achorages vulnerable to such attacks.

The risks could extend to "big, obvious targets," like the French oil tanker bombed in the coast of Yemen in 2002, or the attack on the American naval ship USS Cole in 2000, it said.

Attacks on ships worldwide rose to 234 in the first six months of 2003 from 171 incidents the previous year, the coast guard said, citing IMB figures.

"Bandits who once relied on knives and other crude weapons were becoming more organized and better equipped. The number of attacks using guns climbed to 53 percent this year compared to 31 in the first half of 2002," it said.

The report also said that at least 16 sailors were killed in the Philippines, Indonesia and Bangladesh this year, nearly three times the number from the same period last year.

The number of injuries sustained by sailors also rose to 52 from 21, while incidents of crew members taken hostage nearly doubled to 193.

The waters between the Philippines and Indonesia have been the scene of piracy cases in recent years.

In the latest cases, the Coast Guard said pirates attacked a tugboat escorting a survey ship on the Celebes Sea in July and a cargo ship in April 2003. There were no casualties.

The Manila meeting is expected to come up with a framework cooperation agreement on maritime safety from the 21 member APEC countries before it ends Tuesday, officials said.