LAGOS — A dozen foreign seafarers seized two days ago in Nigeria's restive oil rich Niger Delta were freed on Sunday, the military said, while three sailors taken hostage in May were also reportedly released.
Gunmen stormed a cargo vessel off the coast of the Delta late Friday, wounding one of the crew in a shoot-out and capturing 12 including Germans and Russians.
"I can confirm to you they have indeed been released," Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Antigha, spokesman for a special security force deployed in the area, told AFP.
No one claimed responsibility for the capture of the BBC Polonia, registered in the Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda, and its multinational crew, including its 71-year-old German captain.
The main armed group in the area, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), told AFP it was "not involved in this attack but we are aware of the group that carried out the abduction".
Security officials said they did not know who was responsible.
Navy spokesman David Nabaida said the men were dropped off on a fishing trawler and the navy went to collect them.
"I don't know who is behind them, but I think it's one of the factions of the ex-militants," he said.
They were brought ashore at 1515 GMT, said Rita Abbey, a police spokeswoman for Rivers State, the main oil producing state in the Niger Delta.
The injured seaman was reportedly a Ukrainian.
Hundreds of locals and foreigners have been abducted in the Niger Delta in recent years, against the backdrop of conflict in the oil-producing region where a government amnesty has failed to totally eliminate militancy.
Most hostages end up being freed after a few days or weeks, very often after a ransom is paid.
Two Russian sailors and a Lithuanian skipper captured in May in an attack on a Greek-owned ship off neighbouring Cameroon have meanwhile been freed in Nigeria, a Russian sailors' union and a Lithuanian shipping firm told media.
Lithuania's foreign ministry confirmed that its citizen had been released and would soon return home.
Germany also confirmed that two of its citizens were among the 12 seafarers freed on Sunday.
Others on board the vessel included a number of Russians and a Latvian.
"Kidnapped Lithuanian citizen Alexei Sysoi has been released and is in the care of Nigerian security forces," a Lithuanian foreign ministry official told AFP.
German officials refuted a suggestion by the Nigerian navy on Saturday that the ship was German-flagged, saying that it was not registered in that country.
MarineTraffic.com, a website that tracks ships' movements, reported that the BBC Polonia was en route to the Nigerian port of Onne, which is situated on the Bonny estuary in the Niger Delta.
Abbey of Rivers State police said the ship was on lease to a German freight company and was enroute to Onne port to deliver 4,000 tonnes of construction equipment.
She also said security forces suspect Friday's attack was the work of a group led by Farah Dagogo, a former MEND commander who had surrendered under a 2009 government amnesty.
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