JOLO, Philippines—Ransom-seeking Muslim militants in the southern Philippines freed Saturday a South Korean captain and his Filipino crewman who were abducted three months ago from their cargo ship amid a wave of offshore kidnappings, officials said.
Abu Sayyaf gunmen handed skipper Park Chul-hong and Glenn Alindajao over to Moro National Liberation Front rebels, who turned them over to Philippine officials in southern Jolo town in predominantly Muslim Sulu province.
The Moro rebels, who signed a 1996 peace deal with the government, have helped negotiate the release of several hostages of the smaller but more violent Abu Sayyaf, which is blacklisted by the U.S. as a terrorist organization for kidnappings, beheadings and bombings.
The freed hostages appeared well but were not immediately allowed to speak to reporters. Park wore a scarf that partly covered his face.
President Rodrigo Duterte’s adviser dealing with insurgents, Jesus Dureza, flew with the two on board a jet from Jolo to Davao city, the president’s hometown. The two will later be flown to Manila.
Dureza said he was not aware of any ransom being paid in exchange for the freedom of the sailors. At least 27 hostages, many of them foreign crewmen, remain in the hands of different Abu Sayyaf factions, he said.
There have been persistent speculations, however, that most of the freed hostages have been ransomed off.
Without a known foreign source of funds, the Abu Sayyaf has survived mostly on ransom kidnappings, extortion and other acts of banditry.
A confidential Philippine government threat assessment report seen by The Associated Press last year said the militants pocketed at least 353 million pesos ($7.3 million) from ransom kidnappings in the first six months of 2016.
About 10 gunmen snatched Park and Alindajao from the MV Dongbang Giant in October, using ropes from a speedboat to clamber up the cargo ship off Bongao town in Tawi Tawi province, near Jolo. The ship was on its way to South Korea from Australia, military officials said.
The militants have mostly targeted slow-moving tugboats in the busy sea bordering the southern Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.
In December, Duterte said he told his Indonesian and Malaysian counterparts that their forces can bomb fleeing Filipino militants and their kidnap victims at sea because the hostages “are not supposed to be there.”