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Iran seizes oil tanker; abducted Pinoy seamen now total 35

Iran seizes oil tanker; abducted Pinoy seamen now total 35
Jacob Lazaro - January 13, 2024

Iran’s navy on Thursday seized a Greek-owned, Marshall Islands-flagged oil tanker off Oman, carrying 18 Filipino crewmen, according to the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW).

Hans Cacdac, officer in charge of DMW, said in an online press briefing on Friday that the M/T St. Nikolas had just come from Basra, Iraq, and was headed to Aliaga,Turkey, when it was intercepted at the Gulf of Oman.

Iran confirmed the sea jacking purportedly to retaliate for the “theft” of its oil from the same tanker last year by the United States. The St. Nikolas was laden with 145,000 tons of crude oil.

Cacdac said the DMW has begun contacting the families of the 18 Filipino seafarers who were on board the tanker. Besides the 18 Filipinos, one Greek seafarer was also on board, said a report from Agence France-Presse (AFP).

The incident brought to 35 the number of Filipino seamen abducted in sea jackings, after 17 Filipino seafarers were seized by Iran-backed Houthi rebels who began threatening commercial shipping in the Red Sea last November.

Cacdac said they had no further information on the 18 Filipinos from the St. Nikolas nor the 17 from the M/T Galaxy Leader, a car carrier operated by Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha.

Very little information

“We know that there are 18 Filipino crew on board the M/T St. Nikolas,” Cacdac said. “This is the information we have at this stage. Further announcements will be made regarding this and we look toward our colleagues at the DFA to take the lead in terms of the developments that are unfolding.”

The DFA had not issued any statement at press time, but the United States condemned what it called an “unlawful seizure” and demanded Iran “immediately release the ship and its crew.”

According to AFP, four or five unauthorized boarders, reported to be wearing military-style black uniforms with black masks, boarded the St. Nikolas, which was previously called the “Suez Rajan.”

“Iran’s actions are contrary to international law and threaten maritime security and stability,” said Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, the commander of US Naval Forces Central Command and Commander of the US 5th Fleet.

Release ship, crew

“The Iranian government must immediately release the ship and its crew,” US State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters.

Ambrey, a British maritime risk company, said the tanker, then named Suez Rajan, was previously prosecuted and fined for carrying sanctioned Iranian oil, which was confiscated by US authorities.

In September, the United States said it had seized the Suez Rajan and its cargo of 980,000 barrels of crude oil months earlier.

Shortly after that seizure, Iran seized two tankers. First was the Marshall Islands-flagged Advantage Sweet as it sailed toward the United States in the Gulf of Oman. Next was the Greek-owned Niovi, as it traveled from Dubai to Fujairah.