The Indonesian, Malaysian, and Philippine governments announced on the morning of Monday, June 19, that joint naval operations had been launched in the Sulu Sea, as part of an effort to combat terrorism and transnational crime. The alliance was dubbed "the Trilateral Maritime Patrol," and Tarakan Island in North Kalimantan is being used as the primary command and control base. Maritime Command Centers (MCCs) have also been set up in Tawau and Bongao.
Although the focus is on maritime operations, air and land assets are also expected to be involved in the effort. A spokesperson for the Indonesian military stated that the joint patrol was intended to maintain stability in the region, in the face of threats such as piracy, kidnapping, and terrorism.
The Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia have all been placed on the highest security alert level due to the heightened risk of terror attacks. Joint naval operations have been launched amid a two-week-long battle between Maute militants in Marawi City and the Philippine government. Martial law has been imposed across the region in an attempt to prevent the Islamic State (IS) from establishing a stronghold.
The Abu Sayyaf jihadist group is known for kidnapping people for ransom in southwest Mindanao (especially in Zamboanga province) and in the Sulu Archipelago (Tawi-Tawi, Sulu, and Basilan provinces) in the Philippines. Sailors and foreigners are regularly abducted in the Sulu Sea.
Individuals present in the Phillipines are advised to remain vigilant at all times. Sailing in the Sulu Sea should be avoided due to the high risk of kidnapping.
Due to the heightened threat of terrorism in the Philippines, always be on guard when visiting sites deemed particularly likely to be targeted (public transportation, train stations, ports, airports, public or government buildings, embassies or consulates, international organizations, schools and universities, religious sites, markets, hotels and restaurants frequented by foreigners/Westerners, festivals, etc.). As a reminder, most Western governments formally advise against all travel to southwest Mindanao and to the Sulu Archipelago because of terrorist activity, regular clashes between the military and insurgent groups, and the risk of kidnapping by Abu Sayyaf.