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15 Turkish sailors kidnapped off Nigerian coast return home

ISTANBUL, Turkey: Fifteen Turkish sailors kidnapped by pirates last month in the Gulf of Guinea have returned to Turkey and described the death threats they faced during their three-week ordeal.

The sailors embraced their families on Sunday after disembarking 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 MV Mozart from which the crew were abducted, was cited as saying by the Demiroren news agency.

The Liberian-flagged container ship was headed to Cape Town, South Africa from Lagos, Nigeria, when it was attacked on January 23, 160 kilometres (100 miles) off Sao Tome island.

One Azeri sailor was killed in what the crew described as a sophisticated and well-orchestrated assault.

“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.

According to news reports, the pirates disabled most of the ship’s systems, leaving only the navigation system for the remaining crew to find their way to the port.

Kaya said at the time of their abduction the crew locked themselves in a secure room but the pirates 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 location specified by the company. Their release came two weeks after the attackers made contact to discuss ransom.

After their release, Levent Karsan from Istanbul-based Boden Shipping, which provides technical management services for the vessel, said the sailors were all in good health and it was not a political kidnapping.

The Gulf of Guinea – off the coasts of Nigeria, Guinea, Togo, Benin and Cameroon – is the most dangerous sea in the world because of piracy, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

In July 2019, 10 Turkish seamen were kidnapped off the coast of Nigeria. They were released less than a month later.