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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Another tanker with Pinoys seized off Yemen coast

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Another Israel-affiliated tanker with Filipino crew members was seized off Yemen Sunday by unidentified armed men, but a US defense official said American naval forces responded to the emergency aboard the ship and that “the crew of the M/V Central Park is currently safe.”

An American defense official said that US and coalition forces responded to the emergency aboard the tanker, which was in the Gulf of Aden, but it was not immediately clear if the crew remained aboard the vessel.

Its owner Zodiac Maritime said that among the 22 crew were Filipino, Russian, Vietnamese, Bulgarian, Indian, and Georgian nationals, as well as a Turkish captain.

Yemen’s Iran-backed Huthi rebels had previously threatened to attack the tanker if it did not divert to the port of Hodeida, the maritime security firm Ambrey said.

The boarding took place offshore from the Yemeni port city of Aden, with another vessel in the area reporting “an approach by eight persons on two skiffs wearing military uniforms,” Ambrey said.

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The latest incident comes after a US defense official said an Israeli-owned cargo ship was damaged in a suspected Iranian drone attack in the Indian Ocean on Friday, and a week after Huthis seized an Israel-linked cargo vessel in the southern Red Sea, the Galaxy Leader, with 17 Filipino crew members onboard.

The Huthis, declaring themselves part of the “axis of resistance” of Iran-affiliated groups, have launched a series of drone and missile strikes targeting Israel since the unprecedented Oct. 7 attack by Hamas militants on Israel.

Israel has vowed to “crush” the Islamist group which controls the Gaza Strip, after the Palestinian militants killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took around 240 hostages, according to Israeli authorities.

The Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) said it is coordinating with foreign governments to secure the release of 17 Filipino seafarers who are among the hostages in the cargo ship seized by Yemeni rebel group Huthi in the Red Sea.

DMW officer-in-charge Hans Leo CacDac described the ongoing negotiations as “delicate.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Friday said the 17 Filipino hostages are “fine.”

“The good news is that we do know that our seafarers are fine and that the Huthi rebels have been indicating consistently that they do not intend to harm them,” DFA Undersecretary Eduardo de Vega said.

De Vega pointed out that there have been instances before that Filipino seafarers were taken to Yemen and all of them were eventually released.

The Huthi rebels were saying that they will continue to hold the supposed Israeli-owned ship as long as Israel keeps on occupying and attacking Gaza.

With the four-day truce between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas which started on Friday, De Vega said the Philippine government is optimistic that it will also lead to the release of the hostages in the ship.

On Monday, Senator Imee Marcos pressed the DFA and DMW for a long-term strategy to negotiate the release of abducted Filipino seafarers as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict expands beyond the Gaza Strip.

Filipino seafarers were again among the hostages in Sunday’s hijacking incident in the Middle East, just a week after Yemen’s Huthi rebels seized an Israeli-linked cargo ship.

Marcos, who chairs the Senate committee on foreign relations, said the lives of Filipino seafarers now face higher risks as Israel’s attacks in Gaza could draw in more militant groups seeking to avenge the deaths of thousands of Palestinians.

“There’s no end in sight to this conflict and more Filipino seafarers could become collateral damage. The ongoing truce to release hostages on both sides is temporary,” the senator said.

She also warned that the pro-Palestinian Huthi rebels have threatened to target more ships with links to Israel.

Filipino seafarers comprise 25 percent of those employed in the global maritime industry, with almost half a million serving on cargo and cruise ships

The sea hijackings took place in the Red Sea and the adjoining Gulf of Aden – a crucial shipping route connecting Europe with the Middle East and Asia.

Marcos also urged the DFA to take great care in its diplomatic positions, especially as a member of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

The Philippines’ abstention from a UNGA resolution calling for a humanitarian pause in Israel’s attacks in Gaza “has not gone unnoticed” among Arab nations and could affect future negotiations on the release of Filipino hostages, she said.

“Our alliance with the United States and its foreign policies in the ongoing conflict complicate our own. But Filipino interests come first and must be upheld,” the senator said.

President Marcos, the senator’s brother, has pursued stronger ties with the United States in response to China’s growing aggression in the West Philippine Sea. With Macon Ramos-Araneta

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