A group of globetrotting sailors has launched an online petition demanding that Prime Minister Stephen Harper intervene in the case of four people abducted in the Philippines, two of them Canadian.
"We can make saving these Canadians an election issue," petition founder Trish Bates wrote in an e-mail to fellow sailors this week, after a friend of hers was among those snatched shortly before midnight on Sept. 21 from the Holiday Oceanview Samal Marina in the southern Philippines.
Canadians Robert Hall and John Ridsdel were taken along with Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad and a Filipina, Maritess Flor. They have not been heard from since, although there are indications they have been taken to Jolo, the stronghold for extremist Islam criminal group Abu Sayyaf.
The disappearances touch heavily on Canada. Mr. Sekkingstad lived for years in Canada and also carries a Canadian passport, according to two friends, one of whom has known Mr. Sekkingstad for 13 years and said he has seen the passport. Ms. Flor is dating Mr. Hall. And the Filipino owners of the Holiday Oceanview also spent years in Canada; some of them, too, carry Canadian passports, sailors said.
Now, members of the tight-knit yachting community are calling on the Government of Canada to do more, in the hope that the treatment of Canadians abroad can be taken up on the campaign trail.
Several dozen have signed a petition headlined "Stephen Harper Prime Minister of Canada: Support the Philippine Four."
"Search and rescue efforts for these four may be more effective if Canada offers the Philippine government additional resources," the petition reads. "Here is a chance for Mr. Harper to demonstrate how well he cares for his citizens."
After being taken away on boats last week, the abducted victims vanished. A major search conducted by police, the military and supportive rebel groups has failed to locate them. It now appears that a naval blockade also failed to keep them from escaping the Samal Island area, on the east of the Philippines region of Mindanao.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines and the powerful mayor of Davao have in recent days said information suggests that the victims had been taken to the Sulu Archipelago, about 600 kilometres by water to the west of Samal Island.
On the weekend, the military recovered a boat it believes was used in the abduction at Jolo, one of the Sulu islands. Jolo is the headquarters for Abu Sayyaf, an Islamist group with ties to al-Qaeda that has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and has for nearly two decades captured foreigners for ransom.
But police say they still have no confirmation of where the four people are, and no ransom demand has been received.
Canada's Foreign Affairs Department said in an e-mailed statement that "the Government of Canada will not comment or release any information which may compromise continuing efforts and risk endangering the safety of Canadian citizens abroad."
Norway's Ministry of Foreign Affairs also declined comment, with a spokesman saying "this is an ongoing situation."
People kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf have sometimes been kept for long periods of time, a prospect that frightens Ms. Bates, an Australian living at British Columbia's Saltspring Island.
"I want to get Kjartan out of there. I don't want him sitting in some concrete bunker for 10 months," she said.
Ms. Bates and her husband, Will, have for several years kept their 36-foot trimaran shanghaied at the Holiday Oceanview Samal, where Mr. Sekkingstad has worked as manager. For nearly a decade, he has overseen its construction and operations, turning it into a haven for sailors.
The marina sits outside the normal typhoon range and next to Davao City, which is known as the safest in the Philippines – and one of the most secure urban centres on Earth.
"I never locked up the vehicle I had, or locked up the house. And nothing went missing," said Bill Moseley, a Canadian sailor who has known Mr. Sekkingstad since 2002. He called the abduction "hard to believe."
Only a few years ago, there were times when just three yachts tied up at the marina. But Mr. Sekkingstad's efforts have been paying off. This year, the berths have been full.
Ms. Bates worries that success courted danger. More recently, "they had something like 70 yachts in there, which is enormous for the place, and some very high-profile, very high-end power yachts. And I think that attracted too much attention," she said. "That's one idea I had about why this raid happened now."