Filipino Sailors Freed: Iran Releases Seized Tanker Crew

In a dramatic turn of events, the Philippines revealed on Wednesday that Iran has liberated all 18 Filipino crew members who were detained aboard an oil tanker commandeered in the Gulf of Oman back in January.

The vessel in question, the Greek-owned St. Nikolas, fell prey to Iran’s navy near the coast of Oman, carrying a total of 19 crew members, with only one Greek national among them, who was promptly released the subsequent week.

According to Philippine Foreign Undersecretary Eduardo de Vega, Tehran commenced the release of the Filipino crew in stages towards the end of January, coinciding with the recruitment of a replacement crew sourced from Russia and several other nations.

De Vega clarified that while the Filipino sailors weren’t held as hostages per se, they were effectively prohibited from departing without suitable replacements.

The repatriation process concluded recently with the safe return of the last Filipino crew members to Manila.

The St. Nikolas, bearing the flag of the Marshall Islands, was laden with 145,000 tonnes of oil sourced from Iraq and en route to Turkey when it fell into Iranian hands. Since then, it has remained anchored near the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas.

Iran’s official media framed the seizure as a response to alleged “theft” of Iranian oil by the United States from the same vessel, known at the time as the Suez Rajan.

This incident underscores a recurring theme of tit-for-tat exchanges between nations, particularly in response to perceived transgressions involving oil shipments—a dynamic exacerbated by the harsh economic sanctions imposed by the United States post its withdrawal from the nuclear agreement in 2018.

Meanwhile, the Philippines continues to advocate for the release of 17 Filipino sailors held captive by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Huthi rebels since November, following the seizure of their vessel in the Red Sea. Tragically, two Filipino crew members lost their lives and three others sustained injuries in a Huthi missile attack on their ship in the Gulf of Aden on March 6.

The Huthis’ aggressive maritime campaign, launched in November, purportedly serves as a symbolic gesture of solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.

Encouraging signs such as the UN’s resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza offer a glimmer of hope for diplomatic progress in resolving these maritime conflicts plaguing the region.

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