Nigerian gunmen release foreign hostages: sources


Nigerian gunmen released a group of foreign workers yesterday, two days after attacking their cargo vessels in the oil-producing Niger Delta, security officials say.

Seven Russians, two Ukrainians, two Germans and a Lithuanian were taken on Friday near Bonny in the southern Rivers state. A Latvian worker was injured in the attack, but was not taken by the gunmen, Reuters reports.

A navy spokesman could not confirm the whole group had been released, but said “something like that is on at the moment”.

Meanwhile Reuters reports from Moscow that another two Russian sailors and one Lithuanian abducted from their ships in Cameroon in May have also been freed. The Seafarers’ Union of Russia (SUR) says the Russian captain and chief engineer of the Greek-owned North Spirit, and the captain from Lithuanian vessel Argo — abducted on May 16 when unidentified gunmen raided their ships in an attack analysts said marked an expansion in the range of West African piracy — are on their way to neighbouring Nigeria.
“The negotiation process lasted a month, finally the Union has received good news,” the SUR said in a statement, adding the three would receive a medical check and be met by embassy staff in Nigeria. State-run ITAR-TASS news agency, citing a SUR spokeswoman, said the Greek ship owner Balthellas Chartering paid a ransom for their release.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, visiting the country’s Far East on the Pacific Ocean on Sunday where war games are in full swing, vowed to tackle piracy. “This work (piracy battle) will continue … The benefit from this is obvious for our country, for our merchant vessels, for foreign vessels whom we help to pass through,” he told reporters in Vladivostok.

In April the United Nations Security Council, on Russia’s initiative, suggested creating special piracy courts to plug a gap in the world response to the costly attacks on merchant ships off Somalia’s coast.

Analysts said May’s attack near the port of Douala — which serves land-locked Chad and the Central African Republic — showed pirates in the region were venturing further south and becoming more brazen. Attacks in the Gulf of Guinea have mostly been clustered off the Bakassi Peninsula on the restive Nigeria-Cameroon border where various armed groups operate.

Cameroon in April blamed piracy for part of a 13 percent slide in oil production in 2009. The country’s output averaged 73,000 barrels per day last year, down from 84,000 bpd in 2008.