SINGAPORE: Four Malaysian sailors kidnapped off Sabah's coast on April 1 by Abu Sayyaf militants have been freed, the Philippine military said on Wednesday.
The victims were released early on Wednesday morning, Major Filemon Tan, spokesman of the Western Mindanao Command, said in a statement obtained by The Straits Times.
They were then taken to the coast of the southern Philippine province of Sulu, where they had been kept in captivity, and immediately boarded a speedboat to Sandakan, Sabah, said the statement.
"Information received from ground units disclosed that the freed victims arrived in Sandakan at about 6am today," Maj Tan said.
"We have yet to confirm whether ransom money was paid in exchange for the safe release of the victims."
The four sailors - brothers Wong Teck Kang, 31, and Wong Teck Chii, 29, their cousin, Johnny Lau Jung Hien, 21, and Wong Hung Sing, 34 - were working on a tugboat returning to Sarawak from the Philippines when they were seized.
Their captors reportedly demanded an RM18 million (S$6 million) ransom for their release.
The Star Online, citing new reports from Jolo, reported that Malaysian and Filipino negotiators managed to secure the sailors' release from the militant group after several rounds of negotiation.
A relative of two of the hostages held by Abu Sayyaf confirmed that all four sailors have been freed, the Star said.
“I was told that the four of them are in good health. Their family members are now in Sandakan waiting to receive them," she said.
Abu Sayyaf, known for kidnappings, beheadings, bombings and extortion, is one of the most hardline Islamist militant groups, with strongholds in the largely lawless Sulu archipelago, over 1,000km south of the capital Manila.
In recent months it has abducted dozens of foreigners in a bid to extort money. Before the Malaysian captive, it had also released a total of 14 Indonesians.
But in April it beheaded one captive, Canadian former mining executive John Ridsdel, after its ransom demands were not met. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called it "an act of cold-blooded murder". Philippine President-elect Rodrigo Duterte later apologised to Mr Trudeau for the killing.
Another Canadian, a Norwegian and a Filipino woman are still being held captive by the Abu Sayyaf, whose leaders have pledged allegiance to Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, nine months after they were abducted in a upscale resort near Davao City, where Mr Duterte was mayor for two decades.
The Abu Sayyaf gave the Philippine and Canadian governments and families of the captives until 3pm on June 13 to pay 300 million pesos (S$8.8 million) for the release of each of the captives. -The Straits Times/Asia News Network