EU, NATO, allies press for release of 25 seafarers held by Houthi rebels

EU, NATO, allies press for release of 25 seafarers held by Houthi rebels

MANILA, Philippines: The European Union (EU), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and their allies have pressed for the release of 25 seafarers, including 17 Filipinos, being held by Houthi rebels since last November 19.

Reports from Associated Press 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.”

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

“We strongly urge for the immediate and safe return of all seafarers, including the 17 Filipino crew members of the Galaxy Leader,” EU Ambassador to the Philippines Luc Véron said.

“Their well-being and safety are of utmost importance to us,” Véron wrote on X (formerly Twitter) on Wednesday.

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He shared the joint statement issued by the EU, the United States (US), NATO, and their allied partners on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila) which “addresses the recent Houthi attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea.”

It was signed by EU High Representative Josep Borrell, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, and representatives from Australia, the Bahamas, Japan, Liberia, New Zealand, South Korea, Singapore, the US, and Yemen.

“The Houthi-led seizure of the Galaxy Leader on November 19 and the detention of its 25-member international crew, who remain unjustly detained, is appalling,” they said.

“Such behavior also threatens the movement of food, fuel, humanitarian assistance, and other essential commodities to destinations and populations all over the world,” they pointed out.

“The undersigned condemn Houthi interference with navigational rights and freedoms in the waters around the Arabian Peninsula, particularly the Red Sea,” the text read.

They said that the numerous attacks originating from Houthi-controlled territories in Yemen, including the December 3 attacks against three commercial vessels in the Southern Red Sea connected to 14 nations, “threaten international commerce and maritime security.”

“The undersigned further encourages all states to refrain from facilitation or encouragement of the Houthis. There is no justification for these attacks, which affect many countries beyond the flags these ships sail under,” they said.

“We again call on the Houthis to release the Galaxy Leader crew and ship immediately and to cease additional attacks on commercial vessels in the region’s vital waterways,” they added.

The Department of Foreign Affairs last November 22 said concerned agencies have “been making diplomatic representations with [some foreign] governments” for the safe release of the Filipino hostages.

Sen. Maria Josefa Imelda “Imee” Marcos said she was worried that some Filipino seafarers would end up as “collateral damage” in the Israeli-Hamas war as Yemeni rebels sympathetic to Hamas militants seized the Israeli-owned cargo ship with Filipino workers onboard.

The senator has pressed the DFA and Department of Migrant Workers to negotiate the release of the Filipino seafarers as the Israeli-Hamas conflict expands beyond the Gaza Strip.

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

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