Empire Navigation Expects “Developments” for Crew Held on Seized Tanker

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Greek shipping company Empire Navigation released a statement saying it expects to see further developments regarding the release of the 18 Filipino seafarers being detained by Iran aboard the company’s tanker St. Nikolas. This came as the company welcomed home the youngest member of the crew, a 19-year-old cadet who was the only Greek working aboard the vessel when it was seized by Iranian forces on January 11.

The unnamed cadet arrived at Athens International Airport accompanied by the Greek ambassador in Tehran last Friday, January 19. With the permission of the Iranian authorities, the ambassador had been permitted to remove the cadet from the tanker and escort him out of Iran.

Speaking to Greek media on his return home the cadet said, “I’m very touched. I didn’t expect it to end so quickly. I’m happy to be back with my family and home again.”

He thanked the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs which reportedly immediately intervened on behalf of the crew and their safety. The cadet officer also said the Iranians had “behaved excellently,” and that they had expedited his repatriation. He reported that the 18 crewmembers from the St. Nikolas are being held aboard the tanker which is anchored at Badar Abas in Iran, but he insisted they are being well cared for by their captors.

Empire Navigation reported that the Filipino ambassador to Iran had been permitted to visit the vessel on Friday and met with the 18 remaining seafarers. The report confirmed that they are in good health and frequent contact with their families, while they are waiting for the diplomatic intervention to conclude their repatriation procedures. Empire Navigation says that it is also advocating for the release of the crew.

“The safety and well-being of our crew and their families has and always will be our company’s top priority. We remain in constant cooperation with the seafarers’ families, working with specialized professionals to provide psychological support during this emotional and difficult time,” the company said in a statement.

The Secretary for Foreign Affairs of the Philippines, Enrique Manalo reported that he personally intervened on the crew’s behalf with the Iranians. He met today with Mohammad Mokhber, First Vice President of Iran, on the sidelines of the non-aligned nations summit and appealed for the release of the St. Nikolas crewmembers and the safety and welfare of Filipino seafarers.

“I likewise asked for the release of the 18 Filipino seafarers currently aboard the detained St. Nikolas, and requested that Iran continue to grant consular access to our Embassy in Tehran, and allow regular contact between the seafarers and their families back home,” Manalo wrote on social media after the meeting.

Neither the secretary nor the company gave any timeline for a possible release of the seafarers. Empire Navigation in its comments said it expected further developments “soon.” It is unknown if Iran will seize the cargo and release the vessel or continue to hold the tanker in retaliation for its 2023 involvement in the U.S.’s seizure of a cargo of Iranian crude aboard the ship, then known as the Suez Rajan. Empire Navigation ultimately agreed to deliver the cargo to the U.S. in Houston in September 2023.

Iran in 2022 detained two Greek tankers seized while transiting the Persian Gulf in retaliation for Greece cooperating with the United States in the attempted seizure of an oil cargo aboard a tanker first reported to be Russian and then switching its identity for Iranian. Greek courts sided with Iran refusing the U.S. to seize the oil but the two tankers taken in retaliation were held for six months. Iran however had permitted the shipping companies to arrange to swap crewmembers aboard the tankers so that the original crews were permitted about four months after the seizure to leave Iran.

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