KUALA LUMPUR - Gunmen have abducted four Indonesian sailors and shot and wounded one crew member on the high seas off the east coast of Malaysia's Sabah state, waters where Abu Sayyaf militants are known to operate, a senior police official said Saturday.

If the Philippines-based Abu Sayyaf is confirmed to be behind the kidnapping off Borneo, it would be their third such hostage-taking in as many weeks and comes amid a surge in such attacks.

‘The incident happened late Friday in international waters. Four Indonesian seamen were abducted by the kidnappers. One man was shot and is being treated at a hospital,’ Sabah police chief Abdul Rashid Harun told AFP. The tugboat carrying coal was sailing from Cebu in the Philippines back to Tarakan in Indonesian Borneo when the kidnappings occurred. Six other seamen, including the wounded man, managed to escape.

In a bid to curb kidnappings, Malaysia has imposed a temporary ban on the trade route between Sabah and the southern Philippines. ‘The government has suspended barter trade between the two regions until a comprehensive plan is formulated to ensure the safety and security of Sabah state. It is a temporary ban,’ marine police chief Abdul Rahim Abdullah told AFP.

‘We have deployed marine police boats along with ships from the maritime enforcement agency and the navy to enforce the ban,’ he added. Noel Choong, head of the International Maritime Bureau's (IMB) Kuala Lumpur-based Piracy Reporting Centre, said the shipping community had expressed concern over the rise in attacks.