Groups such as Abu Sayyaf are targeting small vessels, such as fishing trawlers or tugboats pulling coal barges that lack security forces, Abuza said, noting that October's hijacking of the large Korean vessel was a rarity.
Earlier this year, Indonesia enforced a moratorium on coal shipments to the Philippines but the resulting economic damage saw Jakarta reverse course. Tugboats and barges remain banned from entering Philippine waters, but larger cargo ships holding capacity of over 500 tonnes are allowed to resume trade since smaller ships were more at risk, the Transportation Ministry said on October 30.
"This (piracy) poses a real problem for regional trade. As the Chinese economy slows down, intra-regional trade becomes all the more urgent ... It also opens a can of legal worms that hasn't been previously been wrestled with in Southeast Asia," Abuza noted.
Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta and Manila vowed to cooperate to fight the epidemic through measures such as joint maritime and air patrol at the 10th ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting in Laos this past weekend, with Malaysia warning that the Sulu Sea should not become the "new Somalia."
However, none of the three nations are strong at maritime policing or naval capability, Abuza flagged. "The Philippines is by far weakest link in these three and the security situation in Mindanao is deteriorating, not improving."
Moreover, the situation looked set to exacerbate given current politics in the U.S. and Philippines, he added.
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and President Rodrigo Duterte are both looking to reduce America's military presence in the Philippines, with Duterte even looking to eject the roughly 100 U.S. special operative forces in Mindanao.
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