ASG militants kidnapped German national Jurgen Gustav Kantner on 7 November after killing his wife, Sabina Wertch, in waters off the coast of the Malaysian state of Sabah. Wertch’s body was found on board Kantner’s yacht which had been abandoned in the Sulu Sea. Kantner and Wertch had previously been held for 52 days in 2008 by Somali pirates but later released after a ransom was paid.
The German authorities said they were working with their Philippine counterparts to establish the facts of the case but refused to speculate further. The incident comes days after two Indonesian fishermen were kidnapped while working in the same area. Then, four days after Kantner’s abduction suspected ASG fighters hijacked a Vietnamese flagged cargo vessel off the island province of Basilan, Mindanao, taking the captain and five other crewmen hostage.
ASG are estimated to have received more than USD 7.3 million in ransom payments in the first six months of this year alone. An intense military offensive against the group has seemingly had only a limited effect and ASG has adapted well to the restrictions on its freedom of manoeuvre on land by expanding its maritime kidnapping efforts. Manila has responded by formally agreeing on 10 November to allow Malaysian and Indonesian authorities to carry out "hot pursuits" in its territorial waters as the three nations struggle to tackle the rising threat posed by ASG.
These risks from the group were also highlighted by a US Government travel advisory alert issued on 11 November that warned US nationals to take precautions against the possibility of kidnappings by “terror groups” particularly on the popular tourist island of Cebu. The Australian and UK Governments also issued separate alerts a day after the US, citing reports of groups planning to kidnap foreigners visiting the Cebu area. These warnings reflect the heightened risk of maritime-based abductions by ASG which – given their lucrative nature - will persist despite the recent efforts to improve policing.