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4 Samal hostages taken to Davao mountains

Abductors elude dragnet
ABDUCTION ON SAMAL ISLAND Armed men abducted Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall (inset photos), Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad, and a Filipino woman identified only as Tess on the Island Garden City of Samal, just off Davao City, on Monday night. Photo taken on Sept. 19 shows the Norwegian shipbuilder and caretaker of Oceanview Marina posing beside his newly finished catamaran twin-hull yacht at Barangay Camudmud on Samal Island. INSET PHOTOS COURTESY OF AFP EASTERN MINDANAO COMMAND

ABDUCTION ON SAMAL ISLAND Armed men abducted Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall (inset photos), Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad, and a Filipino woman identified only as Tess on the Island Garden City of Samal, just off Davao City, on Monday night. Photo taken on Sept. 19 shows the Norwegian shipbuilder and caretaker of Oceanview Marina posing beside his newly finished catamaran twin-hull yacht at Barangay Camudmud on Samal Island. INSET PHOTOS COURTESY OF AFP EASTERN MINDANAO COMMAND

TAGUM CITY, Philippines—Gunmen who seized three foreigners and a Filipino woman from the resort island of Samal on Monday night have slipped past a naval cordon and escaped to remote mountains in Davao Oriental province, police said Wednesday.

Hundreds of policemen and elite Army troops backed by Philippine Navy patrol boats were scouring the coasts of three provinces on the rim of Davao Gulf in search of the armed group and their captives, on Wednesday but “there’s no breakthrough,” said Senior Supt. Joseph Sepulcre, Davao Oriental police chief.

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The gunmen seized Canadians John Ridsdel, 68, and Robert Hall, 60; Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad, 56, manager of Holiday Oceanview Marina, and Filipino Maritess Flor from the marina of the Island Garden City of Samal on Monday night.

Supt. Antonio Rivera, PNP spokesman in Southern Mindanao, said the attack on Samal Island took less than 20 minutes.

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He said there were 11 attackers who came in two motorized outriggers and entered the Holiday Oceanview Marina around 11:30 p.m. on Monday.

“The men, divided into two groups, barged into the only yacht that had its lights on,” Rivera said, referring to the yacht of Steven Tripp and his Japanese wife Kazuka.

The couple resisted, stirring up a commotion that brought Hall out of his boat, Rivera said.

As Hall came out to look, the Tripps jumped into the water, escaping from the gunmen, Rivera said.

The gunmen turned on Hall and seized him. They went into the boat and took Hall’s girlfriend, Flor, Rivera said.

Then the second group of armed men arrived, holding Ridsdel, former senior vice president of the Canadian mining company TVIRD.

Ridsdel also went out of his boat when he heard the commotion and was seized by the armed men, Rivera said.

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Sekkingstad also went out to check what the commotion was all about when he was seized, Rivera said.

Taking the three foreigners and Flor, the armed men sped away in their motorized outriggers, he said.

Sighted

“Last night, we received information that the kidnappers and their victims had been sighted … they were in the Davao Oriental area,” Senior Supt. Aaron Aquino, the Davao region police commander, told dzBB radio on Wednesday.

“Our Scout Rangers are following their tracks. They are on their trail. The Air Force is also helping, ready for insertion,” Aquino said.

The Philippine National Police and the Philippine Navy tried to set up a naval blockade on Tuesday around Samal Island to stop the gunmen from escaping on their motorized outriggers.

But Aquino’s comments confirmed the kidnappers had slipped past their pursuers and sailed about 50 kilometers east to Davao Oriental.

It remained unclear on Wednesday which group was behind the kidnappings.

The al-Qaida-linked terror group Abu Sayyaf attempted a kidnapping on Samal in 2001 but was foiled. Its strategy of attacking from the sea on speedboats did not match Monday night’s attack on the resort island.

The communist New People’s Army (NPA) is silent about the abduction and the Inquirer’s request for comment from the group went unanswered Wednesday.

Speaking to reporters in Luna, Apayao province, on Wednesday, President Aquino said early reports reaching Malacañang indicated the kidnappers were from a new armed group in the south.

Aquino also said the group’s motive was unclear, but the authorities were pressing the pursuit.

Capt. Alberto Caber, spokesman for the military’s Eastern Mindanao Command, said troops of Task Force Samar of the Philippine Army’s 10th Infantry Division had been mobilized to back the Navy and Coast Guard forces scouring the coasts of Davao Oriental, Compostela Valley and Davao del Norte provinces.

Davao Oriental police chief Sepulcre said reports that the kidnappers abandoned their outriggers in Tibanban, Governor Generoso town, and in Cabuaya in Mati City, were false.

He said policemen who had been sent to check out the reports found nothing.

Samal City Mayor Aniano Antalan condemned the kidnappings and vowed to beef up security on the island, popular among foreign tourists because of its pristine, white-sand beaches and great diving spots.

No cancellations

Local tourism officials said they expected the kidnappings to have an adverse effect on the tourism industry, although there were no reports of cancellations as of Wednesday.

City tourism officer Jen Cariaga said tourists remained on the island on Wednesday.

Holiday Oceanview Marina, where the attack took place, remained open, Cariaga said, although it was already under tight security.

She said that despite the kidnappings, the city government would continue to press its Samal promotion program.

“We would like to reiterate that this is an isolated incident and the local government is now [taking] necessary steps to protect our visitors,” Cariaga said.

Noel Daquioag, provincial tourism chief, said the Department of Tourism-Davao Region head, Roberto Alabado III, had met with resort owners and Samal tourism officials to discuss the kidnappings and security measures.

According to the provincial tourism office, 679,392 tourists, 29,500 of whom were foreigners, visited Samal last year.

Canada issued an advisory to its citizens, warning them to “exercise a high degree of caution” when traveling to the Philippines.

The advisory cautioned about travel to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, the Zamboanga Peninsula and the provinces of Sarangani, Lanao del Norte, Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur (excluding the urban areas of Davao City), Davao Occidental, Davao Oriental, Cotabato, South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat.

Former Tourism Secretary Richard Gordon issued a statement to “commiserate with the local governments and the tourism industry.”

“This (the attack on Samal Island) will undermine all our gains in promoting the Philippines as a tourism destination,” said Gordon, a former senator.

“[The] government should act with urgency to safely recover the victims, but this should be a concerted effort by the authorities and the public as well. There must be a command responsibility to address this crisis. It is through this that we can reassure the Canadian and [the] Norwegian governments that we are doing all we can.”

‘Isolated incident’

The PNP said on Wednesday it considered the kidnappings on Samal an “isolated incident,” although it had stepped up security measures at resorts and other tourist destinations.

“I think it’s clear [the kidnappings were] an isolated case. There is no trend of its happening in several parts of the country,” said PNP Director General Ricardo Marquez.

Marquez, however, gave the assurance that security measures had been doubled in resorts and other tourist destinations in the country, especially with the Philippines hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) meetings this year.

He also said the PNP had asked the military for help in securing tourist destinations.

“When the [crime] victim is a foreigner, we always provide particular focus because we know it has an effect on the reputation of our country. That’s why we’re on double time doing this. We have leveled up target-hardening measures at resorts with foreign tourists,” Marquez said.

Col. Noel Detoyato, chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ public affairs office, said the military had “deployed all available air and naval assets … from Davao (Oriental) to the General Santos (South Cotabato) area to the Zamboanga area to help in the search and pursuit operations.”

“All our troops along the shorelines of the eastern seaboard going toward Sarangani, Davao Oriental, that’s where we’ll concentrate our naval and air assets, as well as ground troops that are helping,” Detoyato said.—With reports from Jerry E. Esplanada, Jaymee T. Gamil and Niña P. Calleja in Manila and Nico Alcanaba, Inquirer Mindanao

 

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TAGS: Abduction, Davao Oriental, Hostages, John Ridsdel, Kjartan Sekkingstad, Maritess Flor, Robert Hall, Samal, Tourism
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