ASIA/PHILIPPINES - Houthi rebels hijack cargo ship in Red Sea: Bishop calls for release of Filipino hostages

Wednesday, 29 November 2023 wars   kidnapping  

Manila (Agenzia Fides) - The impact of the war in the Middle East also affects the Philippines, especially since thousands of Filipino emigrants work in various countries in the Middle East. In Gaza, Filipinos have been held hostage by Hamas: during the ceasefire of the last few days, Hamas initially released one Filipino citizen (as well as ten Thai citizens), while today, November 29, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. called for the release of Noralyn Babadilla, a Filipino citizen kidnapped by Hamas, confirmed that there are no other Filipino hostages in the hands of the Islamic group. But national attention is not only focused on the Gaza Strip: several sailors, including 17 Filipinos, are currently on board an Israeli shipowner's merchant ship that was taken hostage by Yemen's Houthi rebels on November 19 off Yemen's southern Red Sea coast. The Filipino sailors are on board the merchant ship “Galaxy Leader,” which was captured by the rebels. The Philippine Foreign Ministry said the ship was Israeli-owned but operated by a non-Israeli company and was flying the Bahamas flag. Since the beginning of the war in Gaza, the Houthi rebels have shown solidarity with Hamas and attempted to attack Israeli targets. Bishop Ruperto Santos of the church relief organization Stella Maris expressed concern about this situation and called on the government to do everything possible to secure the release of the sailors. "We constantly pray that our government representatives will not tire of exploring all possible means and avenues "to open a window for the release of our kidnapped sailors," said Bishop Santos. The Bishop of Antipolo assured that he was praying for the hostages and their families in "this painful and problematic situation." "We are close to their families and relatives" and "we place this matter in God's hands," he said, informing that the pastors of the "Stella Maris" network will pray for the release of the hostages during the celebration of the mass. "We pray to God fervently and trust in Him even more that our sailors will be rescued and return home safely," he assured. The hijacking of the Israeli merchant ship by the Houthi rebels in the Red Sea brings another front of the Middle East conflict into the headlines and shows how this war can have regional repercussions. The Houthi rebels, who control northern Yemen and the Red Sea coast, declared all Israeli ships passing through the Red Sea "legitimate targets." The ship "Galaxy Leader" with a crew of 25 was on its way from Turkey to India and belongs to the "Ray Car Carriers", which is owned by Abraham Ungar, an Israeli entrepreneur and owner of "Ungar Holdings Ltd", a leading company in the construction field in Israel. The Houthi rebels are one of several groups in the Middle East region that side with the Palestinians. "The seizure of the ship is a response to the heinous acts against our Palestinian brothers and sisters in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. If the international community is interested in security and stability in the region, it should end Israel's aggression against the Gaza Strip, rather than expanding the conflict," said the Houthi military spokesman. The Houthi militias said they seized the ship because of its ties to Israel and warned that they would continue to attack Israeli-linked or Israeli-owned ships in international waters until the end of Israel's campaign against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The hijacking of the freighter shows that the Red Sea already represents a new war front of geopolitical importance, as all major regional and world powers have an interest in freedom of navigation and are potentially vulnerable, especially in the area of commercial and civil shipping. In this context, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Israel now find themselves fighting, separately, the same enemies such as the Houthis, who aim to consolidate control over the northwestern part of Yemen and the adjacent stretch of sea. According to analysts, the Houthis could also return to attack Marib, one of the cities contested in the civil war that has lasted since 2015 and which sees a Saudi-led Arab-Sunni coalition facing Yemeni rebels. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 29/11/2023)