Manila asks Tehran to free 18 Filipinos aboard seized oil tanker

BenarNews staff
Manila asks Tehran to free 18 Filipinos aboard seized oil tanker The St. Nikolas ship (also known as the Suez Rajan), an X1 oil tanker involved in a U.S.-Iran dispute in the Gulf of Oman, is seen in Tokyo Bay, Oct. 4, 2020.
[Daisuke Nimura/Handout via Reuters]

The Philippines has requested Iran to release 18 Filipino crew members of an oil tanker that Tehran seized in the Gulf of Oman last week, the department of foreign affairs said Tuesday. 

The Iranian Embassy in Manila promised to help and said the 18 Filipinos were safe, Philippine government officials told reporters.

“We’re in touch with the Iranian government. The Iranian ambassador has promised assistance, so there’s confirmation that it [the ship] was captured. So, we’re just ascertaining the condition of our 18 seafarers,” said Eduardo Jose de Vega, Department of Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs. 

“So far, there is no indication that they [the 18] are being harmed or mistreated. The Iranian government assured that they will work on it so that they will be released as soon as possible.”

Iran’s navy took the Marshall Islands-flagged oil tanker ST Nikolas, previously named Suez Rajan, while the ship was in transit between the Iraqi port of Basra and Turkey on Jan. 11, saying this was in retaliation for the United States seizing the ship last year under sanctions targeted against Tehran.

Iran claimed its move was a “lawful undertaking” of a ship used in stealing oil it owned. 

Last year, the U.S. government confiscated more than 980,000 barrels of Iranian crude oil the vessel was carrying in an operation to enforce sanctions.

In Manila on Tuesday, Mardomel Melico, the assistant secretary of foreign affairs, said he was able to speak with Esmaeil Zadeh, the Iranian ambassador, who said Tehran would extend all the help to meet Philippine requests.

“He has assured us that the 18 Filipino seafarers are safe and sound, and that everything is being done to facilitate the visit of our embassy officials,” said Melicor.

 “[T] crew men are under the custody of the Iranian government,” but they are not hostages, he added.

Around 1,800 Filipinos currently work in Iran, Melicor said. 

The embassy did not immediately respond to inquiries from BenarNews.

The Galaxy Leader cargo ship (right), seized by Houthi fighters two days earlier, approaches the port in the Red Sea off Yemen's province of Hodeida, in a picture taken during an organized tour by Yemen's Houthi rebels on Nov. 22, 2023. [AFP]

Houthi hostages

Speaking about a separate incident, the Philippine government also assured the public on Tuesday that 17 other Filipino seafarers who were taken captive by Houthi rebels in Yemen were safe, amid weekend airstrikes by the U.S. military.

The Iran-backed Yemen rebels took control of the Galaxy Leader cargo ship on Nov. 19 in the southern Red Sea, following a daring helicopter-borne attack. Some 25 crew members from the Philippines, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Mexico and Romania were said to be on the ship.

The Galaxy Leader, a Bahamas-flagged car carrier, is chartered by Japan’s Nippon Yusen. It is owned by a firm registered under Isle of Man-headquartered Ray Car Carriers, which is a unit of Tel Aviv-incorporated Ray Shipping, according to ship tracking data.

It was the first of at least a dozen ships seized by the armed rebels, also known as Ansar Allah,  in retaliation for Israel’s offensive in Gaza.  

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary De Vega said the honorary consul representing the Philippines in Yemen received firsthand information from the Houthis, which he relayed to the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh.

“The seventeen Filipino seafarers are safe and unharmed. There are no confirmed reports of any Filipino casualty during the airstrikes in Yemen,” De Vega said.

“We are in touch with the families to assure them also that we’re doing what we can do,” he said.

The Houthis have launched a series of drone and missile strikes targeting Israel in solidarity with Palestinians following Hamas fighters’ surprise attack on Israel on Oct. 7 killed around 1,100 people, some 700 of them civilians, according to Agence France-Presse news agency. 

Israel’s military actions in Gaza, meanwhile, have since killed more than 24,000 Palestinians, more than 10,000 of whom were children, according to Gaza;s Ministry of Health..

The Filipino hostages are among the country’s estimated 10 million-strong expatriate workforce, whose remittances have traditionally propped up the Philippine economy. 

The Philippines is one of the leading suppliers of manpower in the global shipping industry, which currently employs about 400,000 Filipinos

Jeoffrey Maitem and Basilio Sepe in Manila contributed to this report.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.