Two Kidnapped Russians, One Lithuanian Freed In Africa

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.

The release of the three sailors comes as gunmen attacked two cargo vessels off the coast of the oil-producing Niger Delta, killing one crew and kidnapping 12 foreign workers.

On Sunday, the SUR said seven of those kidnapped are Russian. A German foreign ministry spokeswoman said two Germans were among the group as well, adding that Berlin was working with Nigerian authorities to obtain 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. Reuters