Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein confirmed the planned launch on Monday following similar statements last week from an Indonesian defense ministry spokesman and Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
“This launch follows the agreement reached during a meeting between the three defense ministers – myself, Ryamizard Ryacudu and Lorenzana during the fourth three-corner meeting on Nov. 17, 2016, after the 10th Association of Southeast Asian Nations Defense Ministers Meeting,” Hishammuddin told BenarNews.
“The Sulu Sea initiative involves joint training operations, coordinated maritime patrol and air patrol on maritime waters and coastline near the east coast of Malaysia including the standard operating procedures for ‘hot pursuit’ into Philippine waters,” he said.
New Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte last year gave Malaysia and Indonesia the green light to pursue militant boats into Philippine waters to capture kidnappers and free their hostages.
The Indonesian spokesman said a soft launch of “trilateral maritime security cooperation” was slated for April 11 from Sandakan Port in Malaysia.
“The three defense ministers will attend the event,” the spokesman said.
Defense and foreign officials from the three countries began talks last year about the need for joint patrols in the region that has been marred by piracy and kidnappings linked to the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), a southern Philippines-based militant group aligned with the Islamic State (IS).
In May 2016, foreign ministers agreed to launch joint patrols to protect ships and their crews. A month later, defense ministers held more discussions on the plan, including focusing on coordinating air-sea patrols.
By November, an Indonesian spokesman said a series of obstacles had slowed efforts to launch the patrols.
“I really hope we can do it in the near future,” Indonesian Armed Forces spokesman Brig. Gen. Wuryanto told BenarNews. “We feel a bit disgraced now [because] the kidnappings keep going on and on.”
In December, Malaysian security personnel killed three gunmen and captured two others during a shootout off eastern Malaysia’s Sabah state. The shootout occurred after seven suspected Filipino gunmen in a boat attacked three ships in the area around Semporna, a town on Sabah’s east coast close to the southern Philippines.
Last week, Lorenzana said ASG is holding 31 hostages including six Vietnamese seamen attacked on their cargo ship off the southern Philippines last month, according to Agence France-Presse.
The 31 includes five Malaysians and two Indonesian sailors. Pirates kidnapped 27 Indonesians and 10 Malaysians in 2016, most of whom have since been released.
In 2016, ASG collected at least 354.1 million Philippines pesos (U.S. $7.3 million) from ransom paid for hostages, Philippine-based news website Rappler.com reported