maritime industry

US, Philippines give conflicting accounts on missing seafarer in Houthi attack

Michelle Abad

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US, Philippines give conflicting accounts on missing seafarer in Houthi attack

RESCUE. Sailors from the Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group assist distressed mariners rescued from the Liberian-flagged, Greek-owned bulk carrier M/V Tutor that was attacked by Houthis, in the Red Sea, June 15, 2024.

US Naval Forces Central Command/U.S. 5th Fleet/Handout via REUTERS

(1st UPDATE) While the White House says a June 12 Houthi attack on the MV Tutor killed a Filipino onboard, the Philippine Department of Migrant Workers still refers to the seafarer as 'missing' and remains 'hopeful'

MANILA, Philippines – The United States and the Philippines have given conflicting reports on the status of the Filipino seafarer who was earlier tagged as “missing” after Yemeni Houthi rebels attacked bulk carrier MV Tutor in the southern Red Sea on June 12.

In a briefing on Monday, June 17, US White House National Security Communications Advisor John Kirby confirmed the death, saying: “A few days ago, the Houthis attacked the Liberian-flagged, Greek-owned and operated bulk cargo carrier merchant vessel Tutor, killing a crew member who hailed from the Philippines.”

But when asked to confirm, the Philippine Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) still referred to the seafarer as “missing.” It was the DMW that confirmed the two earlier Filipino seafarer deaths aboard the True Confidence vessel in March.

On Tuesday, June 18, the DMW said the Philippine embassy in Athens met with the MV Tutor’s shipping principal, which informed Philippine Ambassador Giovanni Palec that the search operations for the missing seafarer will be undertaken when the ship is taken to a safe port.

“Meanwhile, we remain hopeful and are in touch with the family of the seafarer,” the DMW said.

Rappler asked the DMW to clarify the discrepancy with the US statement, but they have yet to respond.

In his Monday briefing, Kirby noted that the vessel “had just completed a port call in Russia and was bound for Egypt” and had “nothing to do with the conflict in Gaza.”

“The Houthis killed an innocent crew member from the Philippines and critically wounded a Sri Lankan sailor who were guilty of no crimes, who were simply doing their jobs…. They weren’t delivering arms to Israel, they weren’t taking sides in the Middle East. They were just manning their posts aboard ship trying to earn a paycheck and keep global commerce moving,” Kirby said.

He added that such acts “can and only rightly be labeled acts of terrorism against nations from around the world,” and that “the Houthi claim of supporting Gazans is meritless.”

The all-Filipino crew of 22 was onboard the MV Tutor when they were suddenly struck by an unmanned surface vessel (USV) that the captain believed was a fishing boat.

The USV damaged the engine room of the vessel, causing severe flooding. All but one of the crew were able to stay put in their accommodations.

The 21 were rescued and repatriated from Bahrain, and arrived in Manila on Monday, June 17.

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If the DMW confirms the death, the seaman aboard the MV Tutor will be the third Philippines-reported death from Houthi attacks in the area. The southern Red Sea is included in the International Bargaining Forum’s (IBF) list of high-risk and warlike zones.

The first two casualties were on the MV True Confidence, which the Houthis attacked in the Gulf of Aden in March.

Filipino seafarers who are informed that they will traverse the areas in the IBF’s list have the right to refuse sailing. And if they consent to taking on the work, they are entitled to double compensation, among other benefits.

Beginning in April, the DMW barred Filipinos from working on cruise and passenger ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, but those on commercial ships like the MV Tutor still have the option to proceed.

Migrant Workers Secretary Hans Cacdac earlier said that the MV Tutor incident prompted the department to reexamine its policy.

The Houthis have claimed to have been acting in solidarity with Palestine, which faces continued assault from Israel. Some 17 Filipino seafarers aboard the Galaxy Leader ship have remained hostaged by the Houthis since November 2023, and the Houthis have said that they will only release them if the war in Gaza ends. – Rappler.com

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Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a multimedia reporter at Rappler. She covers the rights of women and children, migrant Filipinos, and labor.