By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migration Eduardo de Vega (PNA file photo by Robert Oswald P. Alfiler)

MANILA – Iran has promised to release “soon” the four Filipino crewmembers of MSC Aries, a cargo vessel seized by Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) near the Strait of Hormuz on April 13, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Tuesday.

DFA Undersecretary for Migration Eduardo Jose de Vega said the four are safe and have contacted their families on Monday night.

The crew are being fed and attended to while in Iran’s custody, he added.

“Nakausap na nila ang pamilya nila at pinapangakuan sila na mapapalaya sila sa lalong madaling panahon. Titingnan natin at kinakausap na natin ang mga taga-Iran tungkol dito (They already communicated with their families and they were promised to be released soon. We are looking into this and we are in contact with the Iranian side),” he said in a Bagong Pilipinas Ngayon interview.

The DFA is set to hold a meeting with the Iranian Embassy in Manila to discuss the situation.

Once the seafarers return to the Philippines, De Vega said the government would also provide them assistance, including psychological counseling.

The IRGC carried out a heliborne operation on the Portuguese-flagged MSC Aries, directing it towards Iran’s territory.

MSC Aries is owned by Gortal Shipping Inc., which is affiliated with Zodiac Maritime Shipping Company. Iran’s state-run IRNA earlier identified Zodiac as partly-owned by Israeli businessman Eyal Ofer.

The seizure comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and Israel over the latter’s “attack on the Iranian consulate in Syria on April 1”.

No raising of alert level yet

De Vega said the government is still looking into the possibility of raising the alert level in Israel and Iran, where thousands of Filipinos work and live.

Iran fired hundreds of drones and missiles at Israel on April 13, escalating the tensions in the volatile region where the months-long war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas is also still taking place.

“Hinihintay natin ang recommendation ng ambassadors natin doon sa Tel Aviv at Tehran. Nakausap ko si Ambassador (Pedro) Laylo Jr., wala namang recommendation na i-akyat (We’re still waiting for the recommendations of our ambassadors in Tel Aviv and Tehran. So far, Ambassador Laylo has no recommendation to raise the alert level in Israel),” he said.

De Vega advised Filipinos in the affected areas to remain vigilant and heed to the embassy’s security advisories. (PNA)