DFA confirms 17 Filipinos among hostages in Houthi cargo ship hijack

By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora

November 22, 2023, 10:31 am Updated on November 22, 2023, 7:02 pm

<p>Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Eduardo Jose de Vega<em> (PNA photo by Robert Oswald Alfiler)</em></p>

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Eduardo Jose de Vega (PNA photo by Robert Oswald Alfiler)

MANILA – The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Wednesday confirmed that 17 Filipinos were among those held hostage in the hijacking of a cargo vessel in the Red Sea on Nov. 19.

“May 17 na Pilipino ayon sa manning agency kasama ‘yong mga iba't ibang dayuhan (There were 17 Filipinos according to the manning agency along with other nationals)," said DFA Undersecretary Eduardo Jose de Vega in an Unang Balita interview.

De Vega said Manila is concerned over the hijacking as this may have a connection with the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, citing reports that the vessel might have been Israeli-owned.

But the official said the captors have said they would not hurt the foreign crewmembers.

“Nevertheless, different government agencies here will be holding a meeting with Malacañang, together with the Department of Migrant Workers and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, to discuss this situation,” he said.

The official said the DFA is already making representation with foreign governments in the area.

Alinsunod sa mga instruction ng Pangulo lahat ay ginagawa ng pamahalaan para tiyakin na makakaligtas sila at hindi pababayaan ang kanilang kapakanan (In accordance with the instruction of our President, we are doing everything to ensure they are safe),” he assured the next of kin.

Reports from AP cited Yemen’s Houthi rebels as saying that they hijacked the vessel over its connection to Israel and that “all ships belonging to the Israeli enemy or that deal with it will become legitimate targets”.

At least 25 crew members are being held hostage, some of whom are from Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine and Mexico.

The conflict between Israel and Hamas has entered its sixth week since the Palestinian group launched a cross-border attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7 and the latter responded with retaliatory strikes and ground assault in Gaza.

More than 200 were kidnapped by the Hamas group, with two Filipino nationals reported as among the hostages.

In the same interview, De Vega said the DFA is also monitoring developments on the expected temporary truce in Gaza and the release of captives.

Alam ng Israel na inaasahan natin na as soon as possible makama na sa unang mare-release but their priority are children and women (Israel knows that the Philippines is expecting that Filipino nationals would be among those who will be released but their priority are children and women),” he said.

“It will happen in the next few days that a few hostages (will be released),” he added.  

Meanwhile, the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) assured they are closely monitoring the safety and well-being of the 17 Filipino seafarers on board a cargo ship hijacked by Yemen’s Houthi rebel group in the Red Sea.

In a statement on Wednesday, the DMW said they are currently working with the DFA, as well as officials of the registered shipping and manning agency of the vessel Galaxy Leader.

“The DMW is deeply concerned about this unfortunate incident and has communicated with and assured all the families of the seafarers of our fullest support and assistance,” the statement read.

The DMW added they are also working to bring the Filipino seafarers home safely.

Foreign media reported that the Houthi group claimed the vessel was Israeli.

However, the Office of Israeli Prime Minister, in a statement, said the ship is owned by a British company and is operated by Japanese firm Nippon Yusen, also known as NYK Line.

It added that the crew members are of various nationalities including Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Filipino, and Mexican, and that no Israelis are onboard. (With reports from Maritz Moaje/PNA)