Eritrea has freed four British security contractors who it had accused of spying and terrorism and kept in detention since December, said the foreign office.
The men worked for a British maritime security firm, which said they were detained when they made an unscheduled stop in Eritrea due to rough weather while en route to provide security for ships in an area where piracy is rife.
“We are pleased that the four British nationals have now been able to leave Eritrea and can be reunited with family and friends. We are very grateful to the Government of the State of Qatar for helping facilitate their return,” Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said in a statement, Reuters reports.
Britain has frosty relations with Eritrea, which it says supports Islamist insurgents in Somalia, but warmer ties with Qatar, the main Arab state providing military support to enforce the U.N. resolution protecting civilians in Libya.
Eritrea did not grant Britain consular access to the men, who it said were carrying sniper rifles and bullet-proof vests, prompting Britain to ban Eritrean diplomats from travelling outside London without permission.
The men’s employer, Protection Vessels International, said it believed they were in good health and had been well treated while in detention.
“PVI regrets the series of unfortunate events leading to the men’s detainment, but it would like to express thanks to the Eritrean President and his government for their release. PVI is also very grateful for the support and advice by the FCO,” the firm said in a statement.
PVI employs former British marines to provide armed on-board security and escort vessels for shipping operating in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.