By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

PHILIPPINE President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. on Thursday canceled his participation in the United Nations’ climate conference in Dubai to prioritize the situation of 17 Filipino seafarers who were captured by Yemen militants in the Red Sea earlier this month.

Mr. Marcos, who made a last-minute decision to cancel his trip to Dubai for the COP28, cited “important developments” in the situation of 17 Filipino seafarers who were taken hostage after Yemen’s Houthi rebels seized an Israeli-linked cargo ship in the Red Sea on Nov. 19.

The Philippine leader was expected to convene a meeting to facilitate the dispatch of a high-level delegation to Tehran, Iran “with the aim of providing necessary assistance to our seafarers.”

He has entrusted his environment chief, Ma. Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga, to lead the Philippine delegation at the COP28 and “articulate the country’s statement on his behalf,” the presidential palace said in a statement.

It was unclear when the Philippine negotiating team would leave for Iran. The foreign affairs department did not immediately disclose the composition of the delegation.

The 17 Filipino seamen were among the 25 crew members of cargo vessel Galaxy Leader, which was hijacked by Houthi rebels in response to what they called as “heinous acts” being committed by Israel in Gaza. The other crew members were from Bulgaria, Ukraine, Mexico and Romania.

The militants said that the ship was Israeli, but Israel had claimed it’s a British-owned cargo vessel that’s operated by a Japanese firm.

Citing data from the London Stock Exchange Group, Reuters has reported that the vessel is owned by a company registered under Ray Car Carriers, a unit of Tel Aviv-incorporated Ray Shipping.

“Ray Car Carriers is headquartered in the Isle of Man, which is a self-governing territory under British sovereign,” it said.

The Filipino hostages were in good condition and would eventually be released, said. Ma. Teresita Daza, Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson. “Efforts are ongoing for this to happen as soon as possible,” she said in a statement.

The Yemen-backed Houthis have launched a series of missile and drone strikes against Israel, which had bombarded Gaza Strip following a surprise attack by Hamas on Oct. 7.

Upon the imposition of a four-day truce between Israeli military and Hamas that began last Nov. 24, the latter had released 24 hostages, including Filipino caregiver Gelienor Pacheco. It was extended for another two days on Nov. 28 and for at least 24 hours on Nov. 30.

Under the deal, the truce could be extended if more hostages are released at a rate of 10 daily. Israel also agreed to release 150 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the hostages. There were still 173 people being held in Hamas captivity as of Wednesday, the Israeli embassy in Manila said.