Gunmen abducted two Canadians, including a former mining company executive, a Filipino woman and the Norwegian manager of an upscale marina and resort complex on a southern Philippine island, sparking an air and sea search by authorities, officials said Tuesday.
Police identified the victims as Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad, who was the resort's marina manager, and Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall.
Ridsdel, 68, is described as semi-retired. He is the former chief operating officer of mining company TVI Resource Development Philippines Inc., a subsidiary of Canada's TVI Pacific, where he is still a consultant, a company officer said.
A LinkedIn page for Ridsel said he became president of TVI Minerals Processing in April 2011. Information from a Bloomberg Business website says Ridsdel used to work for Petro-Canada, domestically at first and later in Pakistan, Burma and Algeria.
Prior to joining Petro-Canada, he worked as a producer and reporter at CBC Calgary, and at the Calgary Herald.
'A total manhunt'
A spokeswoman with TVI Pacific told CBC News that Risdel remained a casual consultant with one of the firm's subsidiaries in the region and that the company is helping with efforts to free him.
"Right now we are actually in the midst of an intense rescue effort for John, a total manhunt," Shirley Anthony later told Reuters. "The military is involved as well."
She said she did not believe there had yet been any contact with the kidnappers, but that "the people who have abducted him are professional kidnappers for ransom".
Not much was immediately known about Hall, who is reported to be 50 years old.
The abducted woman has been identified as Teresita Flor, who is said to be the partner of one of the Canadians.
At least 11 men armed with pistols arrived on a motorboat and entered the Holiday Ocean View Samal Resort before midnight Monday on Samal Island off Davao City, military officials said, citing a security video that captured part of the kidnapping.
The gunmen attempted to seize an American and his Japanese companion on one of the yachts docked at the marina, but the couple resisted and escaped by jumping off the boat. The two suffered minor injuries as they struggled to break free from the kidnappers, police said.
Amid the commotion, the Canadians, Ridsdel and Hall, and the Filipino woman, Teresita Flor, rushed out of their yacht and were taken. Sekkingstad was seized when he approached to check what was happening, said Senior Supt. Samuel Gandingan, the police chief of Davao del Norte province, which includes Samal Island.
Government forces later heard of the abductions and launched a search.
"Unfortunately, the lead time that the abductors had and the darkness of night were able to cover the retreat of the abductors," military spokesman Col. Restituto Padilla told reporters in Manila.
Government forces on planes and helicopters were scouring the waters and coastal areas in the Davao Gulf, according to Padilla and the police. Two motorboats were found in nearby Davao Oriental province and authorities were trying to ascertain if they were the boats the kidnappers had used, Gandingan said.
The Department of Foreign Affairs said the federal government is aware of reports that Canadians were kidnapped in the Philippines and is "pursuing all appropriate channels to seek further information."
Norwegian officials said they have been notified about the reported abduction but have yet to independently confirm it.
"We are obviously very concerned now," Olav David Sekkingstad, the father of the abducted Norwegian, told the Bergens Tidende newspaper in Norway.
Speaking to CBC News from Mindanao, freelance reporter Dean Bernardo said the gunmen disarmed the resort's security guards.
"[The abduction] is is quite unusual because this is a tourist town, and among the places here in Mindanao, this is supposed one of the...safest," Bernardo said. "It is heavily secured."
Sandy Hunter, who worked with John Ridsdel at CBC in Calgary, said his longtime friend was used to working in countries where "terrorism and criminal gangs worked regularly," adding that he would have been trained to deal with an eventuality such as a kidnapping.
"He has the wherewithal to work through these kinds of things," Hunter said. "I'm sure he thought about it, probably daily."
Hunter said Ridsdel has two daughters.
Note points to Maoist rebels
No group has claimed responsibility. Police said, however, that a private security guard had recovered a note reading "Justice for our commander, by NPA" posted on the resort's gate five hours after the abduction, the first sign that Maoist guerrillas might be behind the attack.
But security and local government officials doubted whether the New People's Army rebels had the capability to carry out the attack.
Muslim and communist rebels, al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf militants and criminal syndicates have been active for years in the restive southern region due to weak law enforcement in rural areas despite years of on-and-off government crackdowns.
Military and police officials were surprised by the latest attack, a reminder that insecurity persists in the south despite recent peace initiatives with Islamist rebels.
The Davao region has been relatively peaceful for more than a decade. In 2014, a peace agreement with the largest Muslim rebel group in the south ended 45 years of conflict in which about 120,000 people were killed and 2 million displaced
Communist New People's Army guerrillas are active in the hinterlands of the Davao region, about 975 kilometres southeast of Manila, where they have denounced foreign mining operations and military counterinsurgency assaults.
Abu Sayyaf militants are notorious for kidnapping foreigners and Filipinos for ransom in the vast Mindanao region. The Abu Sayyaf abducted 21 people, mostly European tourists, from a diving resort in neighbouring Malaysia in 2000, then abducted three Americans and 17 Filipinos the following year from the Dos Palmas resort in Palawan province southwest of Manila.
Abu Sayyaf gunmen are still holding other hostages, including two Malaysians, a Dutch bird watcher kidnapped nearly three years ago, and a town mayor. All are believed to be held by the militants in their jungle bases in southern Sulu province.