GOVERNMENT forces thwarted an attempt of Abu Sayyaf Group to seajack a cargo vessel Tuesday, January 3, off Basilan province, officials said.

Zamboanga Coastguard Station Commander Alvin Dagalea said the incident occurred around 3:24 p.m. east of Sibago Island, Mohammad Ajul, Basilan province.

Dagalea said the cargo vessel, M/V Ocean Kingdom, was sailing to Davao City coming Zamboanga City, when around six Abu Sayyaf gunmen armed with high-powered assault rifles aboard two speedboats opened fire and ordered them to stop.

“When the crew sensed danger, they increased the speed (of the vessel) instead of stopping,” Dagalea said.

He said a coastguard vessel, which happened to be near Sibago Island, immediately responded after M/V Ocean Kingdom sent a distress message.

The Naval Forces Western Mindanao (NFWM) also dispatched one vessel to the vicinity of Sibago Island.

“The aggressors retreated and fled towards Sibago Island when they sensed the presence of the responding troops,” Dagalea said.

He said there was no reported casualty among the crew of the cargo vessel except for bullet holes on her port and starboard freeboard.

The coastguard station commander said the M/V Ocean Kingdom and its 27 crewmen continued to sail to its destination in Davao City after the incident.

Western Mindanao Command spokesman Filemon Tan Jr., said the NFWM deployed naval vessels with the Naval Special Operations Unit in the area to prevent a repeat of the incident.

Tan said “air assets” were also deployed to conduct aerial reconnaissance and later on prepositioned in the area as government forces continue to monitor transiting vessels at Basilan Strait and Zamboanga City waters.

Dagalea said the vicinity of Sibago Island is identified as the “shortest route” for vessels sailing to Davao City and General Santos City coming from Zamboanga City or vice-versa.

He said the area is the transit route not only for domestic but also for international vessels.

Tan said the Joint Task Forces Zamboanga, Basilan and Sulu had been alerted and directed to look out and pursue the perpetrators.