Crew evacuated from vessel hit by Houthis, search for sailor continues

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The crew of a Greek-owned vessel damaged in an attack by Yemeni Houthi militants has been evacuated and the abandoned ship is drifting in the Red Sea, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations and a Philippine minister said.

The search for one missing sailor will continue and there is a plan to start salvaging operations for the Tutor, the Liberia-flagged coal carrier, Hans Leo Cacdac, the Philippines’ migrant workers minister said on Saturday. He said the vessel’s 22 crew members were all Filipinos.

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“It just boils down to finding our seafarer who is still onboard,” Cacdac told a press conference in Manila.

The attack near the Yemeni port of Hodeidah on Wednesday caused severe flooding and damage to the engine room and left Tutor unable to manoeuvre. It was the third Houthi attack on a ship manned by Filipino seafarers since last year, with two Philippine sailors dying and 17 still held by militants, government data show.

Iran-aligned Houthis claimed responsibility for the missile strike on Tutor and another vessel, Verbena, in the Gulf of Aden, over the past days. Their attacks also damaged two other ships in the last week, “marking a significant increase in effectiveness,” British security firm Ambrey said.

The Houthis have used drones and missiles to assault ships in the Red Sea, the Bab al-Mandab Strait and the Gulf of Aden since November, saying they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians in the Gaza war. They have sunk one ship, seized another vessel and killed three seafarers in separate attacks.

“This situation cannot go on,” International Maritime Organization Secretary-General Arsenio Dominguez said in a statement.

Philippine President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr said the country’s authorities were coordinating with the UKMTO to take the crew members to Djibouti and bring them home.

The missing crew member was believed to be trapped in the engine room, maritime sources and the Philippines’ migrant workers ministry said.

Tutor is not sinking and can be safely towed away, Cacdac said after a meeting with the ship’s manning agency. He added that Filipino seafarers have the right to refuse boarding in ships passing through Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.

The ship’s Athens-based manager Evalend Shipping has not responded to Reuters’ requests for comment.

Tsavliris Salvage Group has been assigned to tow the ship, which is carrying 80,000 tonnes of coal, a source with knowledge of the matter told Reuters. The project will involve two vessels. The first is expected to reach Tutor on Monday morning and the second on Tuesday evening.

The Houthis’ air and sea campaign has disrupted global shipping, causing delays and costs to cascade through supply chains. At least 65 countries and major energy and shipping companies - including Shell, BP, Maersk and Cosco - have been affected, according to a report by the US Defense Intelligence Agency.

INTERCARGO, which represents dry cargo ship owners, urged states to enhance maritime security in the area.

“We demand that all involved parties cease their deliberate and targeted attacks on innocent seafarers with immediate effect,” it said.

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