Navy spox says 12 foreign sailors taken hostage by pirates off Nigeria coast safely released

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Nigeria navy says pirates released foreign sailors

LAGOS, Nigeria — Twelve foreign sailors taken hostage off Nigeria’s oil-rich and restive southern delta were safely released Sunday, a Nigerian naval spokesman said.

Commodore David Nabaida told The Associated Press that all the men were in good condition after pirates dropped them onto a fishing trawler off the coast of the Niger Delta. The captain of the trawler then informed naval authorities of their release.

The Seafarers Union of Russia said the crew aboard the BBC Palonia consisted of seven Russians, two Germans, and a Latvian, Lithuanian and Ukrainian.

Nabaida said that the men will be interviewed, but all appeared to be in good health. He said he had no information on whether a ransom had been paid to secure the men’s release. Most hostages are released unharmed in these types of kidnappings after some sort of a ransom is paid.

The German foreign ministry Sunday confirmed the two Germans were safe.

Pirates boarded the German-flagged cargo ship BBC Palonia Friday night off the coast of the Niger Delta. A struggle broke out during the attack and pirates shot one crew member in the leg during the fight, Nabaida said.

Nabaida said the Nigerian navy escorted the ship to safe waters and transported the wounded Ukrainian sailor to a local hospital.

“We are working on how to arrest them (pirates),” Nabaida said.

Friday’s attack is just the latest as acts of piracy increase in the Gulf of Guinea, especially along Nigeria’s 530 miles of coastline.

Such attacks have been common in the Niger Delta, a region of swamps, mangrove fields and creeks almost the size of South Carolina. Militants have kidnapped oil workers, bombed crude pipelines and fought with government troops since an insurrection began there in 2006. While a government-sponsored amnesty deal has slowed violence in recent months, analysts worry the program has begun to fray as weapons remain plentiful in the impoverished region.

Also Sunday, the Seafarers’ Union of Russia said two Russians and a Lithuanian who were kidnapped from ships in Cameroon in May have been released.

In a statement Sunday, the union said the release came after talks, but did not specify whether a ransom had been paid. The union said the information came from the Greek shipping company Balthellas, owner of the freighter MV North Spirit.

The Russian captain and chief engineer of the North Spirit were abducted May 16 in an attack off Douala, the commercial capital of Cameroon. The Lithuanian was seized from the refrigerator ship Argo two days later.

All three were being taken to Lagos, Nigeria, for medical examination, the statement said.

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