Fifteen fishermen got killed while at least three others were wounded when armed men strafed their fishing boats off Mohammad Ajul, Basilan, authorities said Tuesday.

Three fishing boats with 18 fishermen onboard were fired upon off Sibago Island around 7 a.m. Monday, Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang, Armed Forces Western Mindanao Command spokesman, said.

Seven were killed in the first boat, five in the second and three on the third, he said.

Most of the victims were rescued by other fishermen who were near the crime scene and were taken to Pagadian City, Cabangbang said.

One of the three wounded, identified as Jerome Lunsol, 22, of Zamboanga del Sur, was taken to the Zamboanga General Hospital in Zamboanga City due to bullet wounds on the head and back.

Authorities have yet to determine the identities of the suspects, who were only described by witnesses as men riding three small “pakura” watercrafts.

Chief Supt. Bienvenido Latag, director of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao regional police which has jurisdiction over Basilan, said pirates and “lawless elements” frequent the waters off the province.

“We are still trying to determine what group the gunmen belong to or what their motive was because the attack occurred about 10 nautical miles off Sibago Island,” Latag said in a phone interview.

“That’s already at the high seas, not within the town’s (Mohammad Ajul) territorial waters which extend only 2 to 5 kilometers from the coast,” he added.

Major Gen. Noel Coballes, AFP Wesmincom chief, has ordered the Naval Forces in Western Mindanao to hunt down the suspects, Cabangbang said. (John Roson)

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