Iran Released Filipino Seafarer from Seized Oil Tanker St. Nikolas

Iran seized tankers
Iran has a history of bargaining for the crews, previously agreeing to also release the crew from two seizing Greek tankers (Image courtesy Mehr News / CC BY 4.0)

Published Feb 20, 2024 12:12 PM by The Maritime Executive


The Philippines’ Undersecretary in the country’s Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed that one of the eighteen Filipino seafarers aboard the seized oil tanker St. Nikolas was released earlier in the month. He did not provide further details while also calling on the agency to replace the other crewmembers aboard the seized tanker.

DFA Undersecretary Eduardo Jose de Vega reports that the unidentified seafarer was released from captivity by Iran on February 4. No details were provided on how the release was arranged, but the Philippines authorities have repeatedly said they were working to free the eighteen crewmembers aboard the vessel. 

A week after the tanker was seized by Iranian forces in the Gulf of Oman, Greece was also successful in gaining the release of a cadet who was aboard the vessel. He was repatriated to Greece by the Ambassador arriving back on January 19. Since then, the shipping company, Empire Navigation, has said the crew is safe and being cared for while it was hopeful that additional releases would be coming shortly.

De Vega in his statement said the remaining crewmembers are aboard the tanker which is still in the Bandar Abbas anchorage since its arrival there after it was seized by Iranians on January 11. He said the workers are there “out of their free will” and that they are being paid double their salary. De Vega however called on the agency to replace them with other seafarers. 

In the past, the Iranians have permitted other Greek shipping companies to change out the crew aboard the tankers while they were being held in Iran.

Iran seized the St. Nikolas, formerly known as the Suez Rajan, for the vessel and Empire Navigation’s role in the forfeiture of a crude oil cargo aboard the tanker to the U.S. in 2023. The U.S. had been successful in winning a court order and the tanker sailed from Southeast Asia to Houston. When other shuttle tankers refused to handle the offloading of the cargo, Empire Navigation supplied a second vessel which lightered a portion of the oil into a Houston refinery. Iran threatened retaliation against all the vessels involved in the operation.

Asked about the fate of the tanker, de Vega said the matter is in the Iranian courts. He said there was no indication that the vessel would be released.

The Philippine agencies have been active in trying to win the release of the crew from the St. Nikolas as well as the crew from the Galaxy Leader seized by the Houthis in November. Monday, February 19, marked the three-month anniversary since the Houthis seized the Galaxy Leader and its 25 seafarers in the Red Sea. The shipping industry issued a broadly supported statement calling for the immediate release of the crew.