Israel-Hamas war

Houthis will only release 17 OFW hostages if war in Gaza ends – DFA

Michelle Abad

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Houthis will only release 17 OFW hostages if war in Gaza ends – DFA

SEIZED SHIP. Armed men stand on the beach as the Galaxy Leader commercial ship, seized by Yemen's Houthis in November, is anchored off the coast of Yemen, December 5, 2023.

Khaled Abdullah/Reuters

The Filipino seafarers, who have been hostaged since November 2023, are 'safe' and able to contact their families, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines has been working with other governments to secure the release of the Filipino seafarers held hostage aboard the Galaxy Leader vessel, but Yemeni Houthis appear steadfast in their demand to allow this only once the war in Gaza ends, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Tuesday, March 12.

We’re still working with friendly governments to see if they could be released, but the Houthis are consistent in their statement that it would need an end to the war in Gaza before they will release the ship or the seafarers,” Foreign Undersecretary Eduardo de Vega said in a Malacañang press briefing on Tuesday.

More than 100 days since their ship was captured by the Houthis, the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) remain on board in Al Hudaydah, off the coast of Yemen. They are “safe” and able to contact their families, according to De Vega.

The Filipinos are only one group of nationals that were taken hostage aboard the Galaxy Leader, along with Romanians, Bulgarians, Mexicans, and Ukrainians.

Philippine envoys are in touch with their counterparts in working together for their release but De Vega said that “there simply seems to be no solution other than what they demand.”

“At the very least, one thing we’re always in touch with the Houthis about is to ensure that they are treated well and they are able to contact their families. There was a time they could not, but now they are able to contact their families again,” he said.

De Vega wished to remind the families of the 17 seafarers that they “have not been forgotten.”

Meanwhile, recovery operations are still underway to retrieve the remains of the two OFWs that died in a Houthi attack on the True Confidence bulk carrier in the Gulf of Aden on March 6.

Eleven of the surviving Filipinos are set to arrive in Manila on Tuesday evening. Two remain hospitalized in Djibouti – one suffered severe burns, while the other needed his leg amputated. These two are set to return to the Philippines via air ambulance in the coming days, the DFA said.

While Houthi attacks occur on ships in the area “practically daily” De Vega said, this is the first time Filipino casualties were reported. Philippine authorities believe that more Filipino seafarers are refusing voyages in “war-like and high-risk” areas.

The Houthis claim to be acting in solidarity with the Palestinian people, who have faced increased assaults from Israel, particularly in besieged enclave Gaza.

The following are the war-like and high-risk areas the DFA recognizes: the Yemeni coast, southern section of the Red Sea, Gulf of Guinea, Sea of Azov, Strait of Kerch, the Black Sea, and all ports in Ukraine. –

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Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a multimedia reporter at Rappler. She covers the rights of women and children, migrant Filipinos, and labor.