AL-MUKALLA: The Philippine government said on Wednesday that 17 of its citizens are among the 25 sailors held hostage by the Houthis in Yemen, as international pressure mounts on the Iran-backed militia to return the captured ship and release its crew.
On Sunday, the Houthis raided the vehicle carrier Galaxy Leader, which was traveling under the flag of The Bahamas in the Red Sea, and diverted it to Yemen’s western port city of Hodeidah, which they control.
They said the seizure of the ship, which they claim is owned by an Israeli businessman and was carrying Israelis, was intended to put pressure on Israel to end its bombing of Gaza.
“We are currently working with the Department of Foreign Affairs, as well as officials of the registered shipping and manning agency of the vessel to monitor the safety and well-being of the 17 Filipino seafarers onboard the ship, and to bring them home safely,” the Department of Migrant Workers of the Philippines said in a statement.
The EU mission in Yemen said that several EU nationals were also among the ship’s crew.
The capture of the ship sparked outcry in Yemen and around the world, with the Yemeni government and other nations accusing the Houthis of compromising Red Sea security and urging them to free the ship and its crew.
Yemen’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Awadh bin Mubarak said during a meeting with EU ambassadors in Riyadh that the government opposed the act and that it would have no influence on the situation in Gaza.
He accused the Houthis of operating on Iran’s behalf to weaken Red Sea security.
The French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs said in a statement that the incident could threaten maritime free movement.
“The ship’s seizure as it transited the Red Sea in international waters and its diversion to Hodeidah are jeopardizing safe, free shipping in the region, in violation of international law. This act also undermines the interests of the Yemeni people and neighboring countries,” it said.
Despite the international outrage, the Houthis said they would only free the ship and its crew if Israel ceased its military operations in Gaza.
“We can talk about the Israeli ship if the US and Israel stop killing Palestinians in Gaza and start sending in water, medicine and food,” Houthi leader Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi said on X.
“The navy’s activities are consistent with the principle of reciprocity.”