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United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation
MSCI Advisory

2017-004-Sulu and Celebes Seas-Piracy/Armed Robbery/Terrorism

  1. Issue: U.S. flag vessels are advised to remain vigilant and adhere to the counter-piracy annex of their approved Vessel Security Plan when transiting the Sulu and Celebes Seas, in light of recent boardings and kidnappings for ransom that have taken place in the area. Over the past 12 months, there have been at least 14 reported kidnappings and one murder, of which at least ten incidents were reportedly linked to Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), a violent Islamic separatist group operating in the southern Philippines.
  2. Previously, only towing and fishing vessels were targeted and crewmembers kidnapped. However, since October 2016, ASG has reportedly targeted three large commercial vessels and one yacht. In November 2016 ASG boarded a German yacht and killed one crewmember, and in February 2017 killed the remaining crewmember after a ransom demand was not met. Thus far, no U.S. vessels have been involved in these incidents.
  3. Guidance: Additional information on this threat, including specific recommendations for vessels transiting the area, is available on the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) website at
  4. Mariners operating in or near this area are also advised to consult the Department of State Travel Warnings for this area at
  5. All suspicious activities and events must be reported to the U.S. Coast Guard National Response Center at 800-424-8802 in accordance with 33CFR101.305. A Ship Hostile Action Report (SHAR) should also be sent to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) at: as soon as possible following an incident or suspected activity (including apparent surveillance being conducted by small vessels/boats). Reference NGA Pub 117 at: further guidance.
  6. Contact Information: For any questions about this advisory, contact Supplemental information may also be found on the updated MARAD Office of Maritime Security website at: ReCAAP Focal Points Contact Info is available at
  7. Cancellation of Prior Advisories: This message cancels legacy MARAD Advisory 2013-3 (Gulf of Oman, North Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden, Bab el Mandeb) and legacy MARAD Advisory 2016-4 (Sulu and Celebes Seas). This message will automatically expire on November 09, 2017.