By John Victor D. Ordoñez, Reporter

SEVENTEEN Filipino seamen were among the 25 crew members who were taken hostage after Yemen’s Houthi rebels seized an Israeli-linked cargo ship in the Red Sea, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Wednesday.

“We have been making diplomatic representations with governments,” Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Jose Eduardo A. de Vega told reporters in a Viber message. “DFA is working with DMW (Department of Migrant Workers), which has primary jurisdiction over assistance cases involving seafarers.”

On Tuesday, Yemen’s Al-Masirah TV, which is operated by the Iran-backed Houthis group, released a video showing Houthi forces descending from a helicopter and seizing the Japanese Nippon Yusen K.K cargo ship in the southern part of the Red Sea on Nov. 20.

The Houthis described the ship as Israeli, Reuters reported on Nov. 20. The group also seized a British-owned cargo ship that had been sailing through the southern Red Sea.

“This is not the first time Filipino seafarers were held hostage,” Mr. De Vega told GMA News. “This is connected to the war between Hamas and Israel. The ship was targeted because it was allegedly Israeli-owned, although the operator was a Japanese company.”

He said President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. has ordered DFA to ensure the safety of the Filipino seamen.

Mr. De Vega said DFA and other Cabinet officials were set to meet on Wednesday to discuss the situation.

The United States might designate the group as a terrorist organization after the incident, US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said in a statement on Tuesday.

US President Joseph R. Biden delisted the group as a “foreign terrorist organization” and “specially designated global terrorists” in 2021, over fears of worsening Yemen’s humanitarian crisis.

Yemen has the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with 21.6 million of the population being dependent on aid, according to the United Nations.

Former US President Donald J. Trump had blacklisted the Houthis as a terrorist organization, which led to humanitarian groups worrying that sanctions against the group would disrupt the delivery of basic resources into Yemen.

The Houthis, members of the Zaydi sect of Shi’ite Islam, seized the country’s capital of Sanaa in 2014, resulting in a civil war between the group and a Saudi-led coalition.

In a statement, Houthis military spokesman Yahya Saree said the ship’s seizure was in response to “heinous acts” against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

Israel launched a barrage of airstrikes in Gaza after Hamas militants backed by waves of rockets stormed from the blockaded Gaza Strip into nearby Israeli towns on Oct. 7, killing about 1,200 Israelis.

Israel has deployed tens of thousands of its troops for a ground assault on the Palestinian enclave and has enforced a blockade.

On Tuesday, the Hamas-run Gaza government said the death toll has surpassed 14,000. At least four Filipinos have died.

At least 256 Filipinos have come home from Israel, the Department of Migrant Workers said on Nov. 17. Mr. De Vega earlier said 111 of the 137 Filipinos in Gaza have returned to the Philippines.

Mr. Marcos earlier said Israel Foreign Minister Eli Cohen committed to ensure the immediate evacuation of Filipinos trapped in the conflict.

“The safety of our countrymen abroad is a paramount policy and priority of our government,” Mr. De Vega said. “Just wait and we will find a way to save them.”