overseas Filipinos

OFWs attacked by Houthis held as long as they could for missing crew member

Michelle Abad

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OFWs attacked by Houthis held as long as they could for missing crew member

REPATRIATED. Christian Domarique, ship captain of MV Tutor, is emotional as he tells of their experience during the attack by Houthi rebels in the Red Sea, during his arrival at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay on June 17, 2024.

Rappler

(1st UPDATE) MV Tutor captain Christian Domarique recalls thinking the unmanned surface vessel that struck their boat was a fishing craft with 'fishermen' onboard. It turns out those 'fishers' were actually dummies.

MANILA, Philippines – Before abandoning ship, the all-Filipino crew of bulk carrier MV Tutor waited as long as they could for their crewmate who went missing when Yemeni Houthi rebels attacked their ship on June 12.

Ginawa po namin lahat ng paraan na hanggang, before po kami umalis… gusto namin, kung lumutang man lang yung bangkay niya makuha namin. Pero wala po kaming nakitang lumutang na bangkay,” said Christian Domarique, captain of the MV Tutor, in a press briefing upon the crew’s arrival in Manila on Monday, June 17.

(We did all that we could so that, before we left… We wanted to save him, even if it just meant retrieving his remains if they surfaced in the water. But we did not see any remains.)

All but one of the 22 crew members were rescued and repatriated after an Iranian-backed Houthi unmanned surface vessel (USV) struck MV Tutor, a Liberian-flagged, Greek-owned and operated vessel, in the southern Red Sea.

Domarique said: “We first need to rest because of the trauma… We will recover for a few months before returning.”

Philippine authorities and the crew’s manning agency are still locating the missing seafarer.

Domarique recalls being blindsided by the attack, and how things happened so quickly. The USV looked like a fishing vessel, and even had dummies that fooled them into thinking these were fishermen approaching, he said.

Domarique said their armed guards could not simply shoot when the crew perceived the USV as a fishing boat with fishermen on board. But as the vessel approached, it took a sharp turn and exploded on their boat upon impact.

The explosion caused significant damage to the ship’s engine, but the attack did not end with the USV. Domarique said the next attacks were by drones.

Hindi po kami nakapag-investigate doon kasi di po namin alam ang kalaban namin. Galing po ba sa tubig, o galing sa hangin? Kaya nasa loob na lang kami ng accommodation, ang tanging kwan na lang namin doon is dasal,” he said.

(We were not able to investigate [the next attack] because we didn’t know who we were up against. Were they attacking from sea or air? That’s why we just stayed inside our accommodations, with nothing left to do but pray.)

When the explosion damaged the engine, they did a headcount. But they could not simply go down to the damaged area when they realized someone was missing. “Hindi po ‘yun parang pelikula na ‘pag sumabog, pupuntahan mo na, tapos hahanapin mo (It’s not like the movies where after an explosion, you go down there and search for them).”

Various government agencies were at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport on Monday to greet and assist the seafarers upon their arrival.

A Reuters story quoted Hans Leo Cacdac, the Philippines’ migrant workers minister, as saying: “The captain has good working years ahead of him so with the crew that is relatively young, they will still have more seafaring years ahead of them.”

The southern Red Sea is on the International Bargaining Forum’s (IBF) list of high-risk and warlike zones. Filipino seafarers working in areas in this list have the right to refuse sailing, and if they consent to carrying on with the voyage, they are entitled to double compensation, among other benefits.

At present, Filipinos working on cruise and passenger ships are barred from taking on voyages in the IBF list, while seafarers on commercial vessels like the MV Tutor have it optional. Migrant Workers Secretary Hans Cacdac earlier said that this incident prompted the department to re-examine its policy.

The MV Tutor is the latest in a string of incidents of Filipino seafarers being attacked by Houthi rebels, who have claimed to be acting in solidarity with the Hamas in its war with Israel.

Two Filipinos were earlier reported killed after a Houthi attack on MV True Confidence in the Gulf of Aden.

Financial aid

The 21 repatriates each received a total of P230,000 in immediate financial assistance from the Philippine government upon their arrival in Manila.

P150,000 for each seafarer came from House Speaker Martin Romualdez and his wife Tingog Representative Yedda Romualdez’ personal calamity funds. The Department of Migrant Workers gave each P50,000, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration P10,000, and the Department of Social Welfare and Development P20,000 for each.

The seafarers were also given 192 Bahraini dinars before coming home, equivalent to around P30,000.

“We are deeply relieved that our brave seafarers are coming home safe. This assistance is a token of our gratitude for their courage and resilience during this harrowing ordeal,” said Speaker Romualdez. – with reports from Reuters/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.