ZAMBOANGA CITY–Pursuing government troops on Saturday rescued the skipper of the tugboat towing a cargo vessel hijacked by suspected Abu Sayyaf bandits two days ago off Basilan province.
Col. Juvymax Uy, Joint Task Force Basilan commander, confirmed to the Philippine News Agency (PNA) that Aurelio Agacac is now in the custody of the troops after he was rescued at about 5:30 a.m. Saturday in Barangay Basakan in the coastal town of Hadji Mohammad Ajul.
Agacac is the skipper of M/T Tug R9 towing the cargo vessel, Super Shuttle RoRo 9.
“He (Agacac) was rescued. Of course, we are still looking for the other kidnapped victim. Operation continues relentlessly,” Uy said.
On Thursday, the Abu Sayyaf bandits hijacked M/T Tug R9 and forcibly took Agacac, along with his chief engineer, Laurencio Tiro, in the vicinity of Sibago Island, Hadji Mohammad Ajul town.
Uy did not provide further details on the circumstances that led to the rescue of Agacac, but said they beefed up their operation following the brazen attack of the Abu Sayyaf on Thursday.
Earlier, operating troops from the 19th Special Forces Company of the 4th Special Forces Battalion killed an Abu Sayyaf member, Jaudi Salupuddin, during a hot pursuit operation in Tuburan town following the hijack incident in the neighboring municipality of Hadji Mohammad Ajul.
“He was fatally wounded when he was turned over, prompting the military to evacuate him to the nearest medical station. However, he expired along the way,” Capt. Jo-ann Petinglay, Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) information officer, said.
Petinglay said Salupuddin was among those involved in the hijack of M/T Tug R9.
The troops also recovered an M-16 rifle with two short magazines of ammunitionand a motorized banca used by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in the kidnapping.
On Friday, the military also recovered one colored light blue motorboat locally known as “bote-bote” with a 10-person capacity, and one yellow outrigger-type motorboat with a four-person capacity at Sitio Kapago, Barangay Candiis, Tuburan.
Both boats were positively identified as the ones used in the hijacking of M/T Tug R9 and their engines were already removed.
Maj. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., Westmincom commander, said a pursuit operation is still ongoing in coordination with the police forces in Basilan province.
“WestMinCom is doing its best to rescue all the kidnap victims within our area of operations. However, this is one challenge that your Armed Forces cannot address alone. We need the help and the support of every peace-loving Filipinos in this fight,” Galvez said.
“As of this report, Westmincom troops are working doubly hard to track and rescue the remaining sailor (Tiro) and the other kidnap victims. We will use all means to rescue the remaining hostages.”
Prior to the hijack on Thursday, troops from the 3rd Scout Ranger Battalion under the Joint Task Force Basilan and members of the Barangay Peacekeeping Action Team (BPAT) launched an assault against the Abu Sayyaf in Tuburan town.
At least one Abu Sayyaf member identified as Bistahan Nisalun, alias Upang-Upang, was killed during the assault in Barangay Lahi-Lahi, Tuburan. He was a known follower of Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Abdullah Indanan alias Abdullah Jhovel or Guru, Petinglay said.
The Philippine military is operating on a six-month deadline imposed by President Rodrigo Duterte to finish off the Abu Sayyaf, which has carried out a string of maritime kidnappings over the past year.
The deadline will lapse on June 30.