ZAMBOANGA city remained closed to air and sea travel on Tuesday. Docked ships were moved to safer waters, as the rebel Moro National Liberation Front attacked the Philippine southern city’s port with mortar fire, radio reports citing the Coast Guard said.
All flights and shipping services to and from the city were also cancelled, airline and vessel operators said.
Radio reports said two explosions occurred near the port Tuesday morning, with one mortar round hitting the water just a meter away from the Coast Guard station. This prompted the agency to order some of the docked vessels to move out.
Operations at the port have been halted since Monday, when about 300 MNLF fighters allied with Nur Misuari began their assault on the city in what government officials see as a bid to derail peace talks on Mindanao.
As of Tuesday, eight people were reported to have died and 200 taken hostage by the MNLF on Monday although six have been released.
Albasir Jeuhari, a Philippine Port Authority security officer who responded to a phone call by PortCalls on Tuesday, said only the PCG and the port police were at the port.
There were no cargo or passenger operations at the port, Jeuhari said. He said port manager Liberto dela Rosa was in Davao.
PortCalls tried to reach the Philippine Liner Shipping Association for comment but its officials were in a meeting as of press time.
2GO executive vice president-freight sales and operations-Luzon Jose Manuel Mapa said in a text message to PortCalls that “with the recent incident, we are temporarily avoiding Zamboanga until the situation improves.”
The company said it has one vessel deployed to the besieged port.
The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines again issued an order suspending all flights to Zamboanga Airport. Eight Cebu Pacific and 14 PAL Express flights were cancelled on Tuesday.
Zamboanga International Airport is the main airport serving Zamboanga City. It is the third busiest airport in Mindanao after Davao and Cagayan de Oro cities.
Also on Tuesday, soldiers secured all high-rise buildings in Zamboanga City’s commercial center in case the standoff with the MNLF, which was on its second day, worsened, the army said. – Roumina Pablo