KOTA KINABALU: The four Malaysian sailors abducted by Filipino gunmen in Pulau Ligitan waters off Semporna are believed to be in the notorious Abu Sayyaf stronghold of Jolo.
Filipino sources claimed the group - led by a veteran cross-border kidnapper known as Apo Mike - arrived with the captives through the Idanan area late Sunday.
The sailors are "unharmed and all right", and under armed guard in the area where the Abu Sayyaf militants are already holding 10 Indonesians grabbed a week earlier from another tugboat, the Brahman 12.
The sources are not aware if the gunmen have made contact with the captives' families or Malaysian authorities.
They declined to say which Abu Sayyaf group was holding the sailors.
Philippine military officials have yet to confirm the presence of the Malaysians while Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Abdul Rashid Harun said they have not received any word yet.
He said Malaysian police were working with their counterparts there.
The gunmen grabbed the Malaysians from the tugboat Massive 6 off Pulau Ligitan along the Philippine-Malaysian border on April 1.
The plight of the Indonesians came to light on March 29 when the Brahman 12 was found drifting near the Tawi Tawi chain of islands.
Rashid said police were trying to find out if the same Filipino gunmen were involved in both kidnappings.
He said the gunmen only took the four Malaysians, who were from Sarawak, leaving six other sailors - three Indonesians and three Myanmar nationals - behind.
Police are still interviewing the other sailors who have returned to Tawau.
Rashid said the tugboat skipper was steering for Tawau via south-western Pulau Ligitan to resupply. The boat was on its way from Manila to Kalimantan to pick up coal.
On the recovery of a barge laden with coal that is believed pulled by the Brahman 12, he said the owners would be informed.
Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency Sandakan director Capt A. Razak Abd Rahman said they believe the barge had drifted from Alice Channel near the Philippine border with Semporna into Malaysian waters.
"We found it 8.4 nautical miles from the sea-basing platform Tun Sharifah Rodziah and 13.7 nautical miles from Tanjung Tunku," he said.
Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman, who chaired a State Security Council special meeting yesterday, called for drastic measures to be taken to overcome cross-border crimes.
He did not disclose more but it is widely believed that he would address calls to stop the multi-million-ringgit barter trade between Sabah and southern Philippines.
In Labuan, Bernama reported that the Philippine government was working with the Malaysian Foreign Ministry to rescue the abducted Malaysians.
Philippine Ambassador to Malaysia J. Eduardo Malaya said the safety of the victims was paramount for both governments.
"We will continue to communicate and consult with the Foreign Ministry, and at the same time, the security forces of both countries are exchanging intelligence on the matter," he told a press conference.