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Philippine President Skips Climate Talks to Focus on Hijacked Seafarers

Houthi fighters advance along the top deck of the Galaxy Leader (Houthi Military Media)
Houthi fighters advance along the top deck of the Galaxy Leader (Houthi Military Media)

Published Nov 30, 2023 8:07 PM by The Maritime Executive

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has suspended his trip to the UAE for the COP28 climate conference in order to give his full attention to negotiating the release of Filipino crewmembers of the car carrier Galaxy Leader, which was hijacked by Yemen's Houthi militia on Nov. 19.  

"In light of important developments in the hostage situation involving 17 Filipino seafarers in the Red Sea, I have made the decision not to attend COP28 in Dubai tomorrow," said Marcos in a statement. "Today, I will be convening a meeting to facilitate the dispatch of a high-level delegation to Tehran, Iran, with the aim of providing necessary assistance to our seafarers."

The statement came just a few hours before Marcos was due to board a plane and depart for Dubai. He did not attend a send-off ceremony at Manila's Villamor Air Base. 

In skipping a trip to COP28, Marcos is passing up an opportunity to advocate for a climate "loss and damage fund" at COP28, which is designed to compensate developing nations for climate impacts that they did not create. It is a key priority for the Philippines, which is exposed to outsize risk from strengthened storms. 

In his stead, Marcos has appointed environment secretary Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga to lead the Philippine delegation to Dubai. "The Loss and Damage Fund is extremely important because there are climate-related adverse impacts that are beyond our ability to finance,” said Loyzaga.

According to the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, the seafarers aboard Galaxy Leader are well and unharmed. Though the crew were accosted and threatened at gunpoint during the boarding, from outward appearances, the circumstances on board appear to have become more relaxed. Videos and photos posted to social media by local Yemenis appear to depict a party atmosphere, with Houthi "tourist" visitors coming and going from shore, hookah smoking, consumption of qat (an herbal drug with amphetamine-like effects), and celebratory dancing on the top deck. Some of the videos appear to show crewmembers joining in. 

Satellite imaging shows that the vessel has been relocated about 25 nm north from Hudaidah to As-Salif, where it remains at anchor.