By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora

(File photo)

MANILA – All the 18 Filipino crew members of the seized oil tanker ST Nikolas in Iran have returned to the Philippines, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) announced Wednesday.

The agency said the 18 were repatriated in batches, with the last of group of six arriving in Manila last week.

“The Philippine government thanks the authorities of Iran for their understanding in this matter and appreciates the work of the manning agency which made this possible,” the statement added.

The DFA said the vessel is still being held in Iran months after its seizure by the Iranian Navy in January as a retaliation for the United States’ confiscation of oil it was carrying when it was still sailing under the name Suez Rajan in 2023.

Meanwhile, the DFA said coordination with foreign partners continues for the immediate release of 17 other Filipino seafarers held hostage by the rebel group Houthi in the Red Sea.

The DFA said the 17 are still on board the commercial ship Galaxy Leader, which was hijacked by the group in November 2023.

“The Philippines continues to work with our friends and partners, including through the UN (United Nations) system, to address the situation in the Red Sea involving 17 Filipino seafarers,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo said in a post on X.

“We assure their families that all is being done so that the seafarers will finally be able to return home,” he added.

The DFA earlier confirmed that the Houthi’s demand was political, not monetary— an “end” to the war in Gaza before they release the ship or the seafarers.

Manalo’s statement came after the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution demanding a ceasefire in Gaza for the period of Ramadan.

Asked if the release would be possible before the end of Ramadan, DFA Undersecretary Eduardo Jose de Vega said: “We are always hopeful and pray for the best result”. (PNA)