Fifteen Turkish sailors kidnapped by pirates last month in the Gulf of Guinea arrived back in Turkey on Sunday, with the ship’s captain describing how they faced death threats and were held in a forest during their three-week ordeal.
Reuters reported that the sailors hugged relatives as they arrived before dawn at Istanbul Airport, where they were greeted by Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu and other officials, two days after news of their release in Nigeria emerged.
“We were in a forest. There were tough conditions. There were constantly armed men at our side,” Mustafa Kaya, captain of the ship “Mozart” from which the crew were abducted, was quoted as saying by the Demiroren news agency.
The Liberian-flagged container ship was headed to Cape Town from Lagos when it was attacked on January 23, 160 kilometres (100 miles) off Sao Tome island, maritime reports showed.
One Azeri sailor was killed in what the crew described as a sophisticated and well-orchestrated attack.
“We didn’t experience physical violence but they exerted psychological pressure during the negotiations. They said ‘we will kill you if your company does not do what we want’,” Kaya said.
Kaya added that at the time of their abduction the crew had locked themselves in a secure room but that the pirates had forced their way in after a five-hour struggle.
“They were constantly opening fire, firing randomly inside. At that time one of our colleagues died. He was shot in the belly. We are very sad,” he said.
The crew was finally taken by boat and released at a safe place specified by the company. Their release came two weeks after the attackers made contact to discuss a ransom.
After their release, Levent Karsan from Istanbul-based Boden Shipping said that the sailors were all in good health and that it was not a political kidnapping, but solely aimed at getting a ransom, with talks handled by a team based in Hamburg.
“This wasn’t a political kidnapping,” Karsan said, adding “This kind of kidnapping happens in that region unfortunately and is completely aimed at getting ransom”, before urging the United Nations to tackle piracy in the region.
Earlier, Turkish Foreign Minister, Cavusoglu disclosed that a British company had handled negotiations, and added that Turkish shipping companies “must learn a lesson from this and work together to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
The Turkish ship was attacked last month, off Nigeria’s Gulf of Guinea coast, killing an Azerbaijani citizen, and kidnapping 15 sailors, with reports stating the attack, happened way offshore compared to other attacks.
According to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), in its 2020 Annual Piracy report, West Africa’s Gulf of Guinea recorded an unprecedented increase in piracy attacks last year.
The IMB reported that 135 crew members were kidnapped from their vessels in 2020, with the Gulf of Guinea accounting for over 95 per cent while a record of 130 crew members was kidnapped in 22 separate incidents.
Last year, the federal government said it was launching a $195 million Deep Blue Project to tackle all the emerging security challenges in its maritime domain, adding that the project will be completed by March , 2021.
The government stressed that the Integrated National Security and Waterways Protection Infrastructure, otherwise known as the DBP will comprehensively address insecurity and criminality in Nigeria’s territorial waters and exclusive economic zone.
Emmanuel Addeh in Abuja with agency report