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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation
MSCI Advisory

2018-003-Sulu and Celebes Seas-Piracy/Armed Robbery/Terrorism


1. Reference: This advisory updates and supersedes U.S. Maritime Advisory 2017-004.

2. Issue: Piracy/Armed Robbery/Terrorism in the Sulu and Celebes Seas. U.S. flagged 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 those areas. In 2017, there were at least 15 reported boardings, attacks, or kidnappings in the Sulu and Celebes Seas. All five kidnapping incidents were reportedly linked to the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), a violent Islamic separatist group operating in the southern Philippines. Specific case details are available at the Office of Naval Intelligence’s “Worldwide Threat to Shipping” and “Piracy Analysis and Warnings” website at

3. The Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia’s (ReCAAP) Information Sharing Center is also concerned about the increase in the number of incidents in the area. From March 2016 through November 2017, a total of 59 crewmembers had been abducted in this area and of these, six were killed and 10 are still in captivity. Thus far, no U.S. flagged vessels have been involved in these incidents.

4. Guidance: ReCAAP advises all ships to avoid anchoring outside port limit areas and to exercise enhanced vigilance, maintain strict look-outs (particularly during hours of darkness), and report all incidents to the relevant authorities immediately. Additional information on this threat, including specific recommendations for vessels transiting the area, is available on the ReCAAP website at

5. Mariners operating in or near these areas are also advised to consult the Department of State Travel Warnings at

6. All suspicious activities and events must be reported to the U.S. Coast Guard National Response Center at 800-424-8802 in accordance with 33 CFR 101.305. 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: for further guidance.

7. 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

8. Cancellation of Prior Advisories: This message cancels U.S. Maritime Advisory 2017-004.

9. This Advisory will automatically expire on July 24, 2018.