DFA: Iran open to release rest of ST Nikolas crew once replaced

By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora

February 22, 2024, 3:35 pm

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

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

MANILA – Iran is allowing the release of all crew members of the seized ST Nikolas once their replacement to man the ship arrives, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Thursday.

At least 17 of the 19 original crew members remain on the vessel after a Filipino and a Greek cadet were released early this month and in January, respectively.

In a Bagong Pilipinas interview, DFA Undersecretary Eduardo Jose de Vega said a vessel, even if docked in a port, must have crews attend it all the time.

“Ito’y legal seizure according to the Iranian authorities ayon sa isang Iranian court order. In other words, ang trato sa kanila ay hindi hostages parang empleyado pa rin ng agency (This is a legal seizure according to the Iranian authorities based on an Iranian court order. In other words, these seafarers are treated not as hostages but employees of the agency),” he said.

To compensate the crew managing the vessel, the concerned manning agency doubled their salary. 

The first Filipino who was freed, De Vega said, did not take the double pay offer.

The official, on the other hand, noted that at least 10 are expected to return soon as their contracts will expire in about a month.

“Kapag tapos na ang contract puwede na umuwi at tinitiyak natin na mayroon silang substitute, sinasabi natin sa agency na huwag Filipino (Once their contracts end, they can go home and we will make sure they will have a substitute but we will ask the agency not to put Filipinos),” he said.

“Papayagan naman ng Iranian authorities na umalis lahat kung may replacement sa barko (The Iranian authorities will allow them all to leave),“ he added.

ST Nikolas will remain in Iran’s custody until its court decides what it will do with it, De Vega said.

Houthi hostages

Meanwhile, De Vega reported that the Philippines continues to engage with international partners for the safe release of a separate group of Filipino seafarers being held hostage by the Houthis in the Red Sea.

He said the condition of their captors is “political” in nature, which is for the war in Gaza to end.

Yemen’s Houthi rebels were earlier quoted 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”.

The hijacking occurred on Nov. 19.

The conflict between Israel and Hamas began on Oct. 7 when the Palestinian group Hamas launched a cross-border attack on southern Israel and the latter responded with retaliatory strikes and ground assault in Gaza.

In the same interview, De Vega announced that the Philippine government has completed the repatriation of all distressed Filipinos in Gaza, except for one Catholic nun who decided to stay and finish her mission. (PNA)