Kidnapped tugboat skipper walks two hours to freedom (with photo)

ZAMBOANGA CITY- Tug boat skipper Aurelio Agac-ac walked for two hours to his freedom at dawn on Saturday following a 37-hour harrowing and tension-filled ordeal with the Abu Sayyaf Group in Basilan province.

"They (captors) were asleep, perhaps because they were too tired. I took the risk and escaped," he told reporters at the headquarters of the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom).

Agac-ac, who was visibly tired, said he walked and run until he was recovered by pursuing troops that have surrounded the mountainous area of Barangay Basakan in the coastal town of Hadji Mohammad Ajul at around 3:20 a.m. Saturday.

"Even at night, we can hear the presence of military choppers in the mountain," he said explaining the heavy presence of military forces in the area has forced his captors to lessen the grip on him.

"I walked and run. I was tired at same time hungry," he said.

On Thursday, the Abu Sayyaf bandits hijacked M/T Tug R9 and forcibly took Agac-ac, along with his chief engineer, Laurencio Tiro, in the vicinity of Sibago Island, Hadji Mohammad Ajul, Basilan.

"Although I was scared, but I gather my strength to escape. I always pray and don't lose hope," Agac-ac said.

Maj. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., Westmincom commander, said it was the combined efforts of Navy, Air Force, and the local government of Basilan that pressured the Abu Sayyaf bandits and lose its focus.

"It was the constant pressure that we deployed that he was able to escape," Galvez said.

Following receipt of distress call on Thursday, the Navy dispatched three gun boats to the vicinity of Sibago island, while Air Force helicopters tracked down the locations of the bandits.

"We have increased our capabilities in terms of interdiction. We can react immediately," Galvez said.

With the enhance military, "this will deter future kidnapping incidents [and seajacking]," Galvez said.

He said the pursuit operation is ongoing in a bid to rescue the remaining kidnapped victim.

"We have strong indications that his companion is still there, and hopefully we can rescue him with the help of the local government units in Basilan," he said.

Currently, the military is constricting the area of the bandits, saying naval assets and special forces are scouring the area.

"I believed he is alive. He'll be rescued because of the continuing military operations," Agac-ac said.

Agacac, who admitted that it was his first time to set sail in the waters of Basilan, said the hijacking occurred so fast.

"I was really scared. But we were able to make a distress call," he said.

According to him, he were separated from his companion--Tiro.

"They (Abu Sayyaf) told us not to resist or else something wrong might happen to us," Agac-ac said, adding that he saw three motorboats the Abu Sayyaf bandits used during the hijacking.

"We were about five to six miles when the Navy and military helicopter tried to rescue us. They were shooting the kidnappers," Agacac said.

"Thank god I was not hit," he added.

At least one of the bandits was killed, and another was wounded, Galvez said, adding that they were also able to apprehend two more Abu Sayyaf members and recovered five motorboats that were used in the hijacking.

Source: Philippines News Agency