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Nigeria: Italian seamen are free and will soon be home, says Terzi

“Our three seamen are free and will soon be back in Italy”. The news that the families had been awaiting since Christmas Eve was announced early this morning by Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi. The nightmare is over for Emiliano Astarita, Salvatore Mastellone e Giuseppe D’Alessio (respectively, the captain, first officer and engineer of the Asso21, a cargo-boat owned by Augusta Offshore).The three were kidnapped on 23 December off the coast of Nigeria.

The seamen are expected home this afternoon, announced Terzi, who will meet the three in person “to convey to them and their families our satisfaction and relief at the positive outcome of this affair”. At Piano di Sorrento, Sant’Agnello and Pompei, relatives were overjoyed at the news. “We’re well, and they treated us well”. These were Emiliano Astarita’s first words on the phone to his father, Franco. “We’ve lost weight but everything’s fine”, he added.

The kidnapping

A group of 7 armed men attacked the cargo boat on 23 December as it headed for Port Harcourt. Unusually, the attackers did not seize the ship itself but kidnapped four crew members (the three Italians and a Ukrainian). Search operations began immediately, with the help of the Nigerian navy and the diplomatic efforts of the Italian Foreign Ministry.

“This was a success for the men and women of the Farnesina and all the officials of the state structures involved. Their tenacity and professionalism made the positive outcome of this difficult affair possible”, commented Terzi, who also thanked the Nigerian authorities “who have collaborated fully with us in the last few weeks”. Most notably the Nigerian Foreign Minister, with whom Terzi has liaised constantly on the case. The situation was “extremely worrying”, added Terzi, “but thanks to the techniques we have honed over time, this long operation ended successfully [at about 1am] with the return of our fellow nationals”.

Thirty Italian nationals have been brought home

Thirty Italian nationals kidnapped abroad have been brought home in recent months.

Two are still in the hands of their kidnappers. Mario Belluomo, a 63-year-old engineer from Catania, was kidnapped in Syria on 17 December, somewhere between Homs and Tartus. And aid worker Giovanni Lo Porto (38, from Palermo) has been in the hands of a Pakistani Taliban group for nearly a year. “The next few days could bring positive developments on Belluomo, but it’s too soon to say”, explained Terzi this morning. As for Lo Porto, the Minister described the case as “complicated”. Terzi gave an assurance that “we are following both cases hour by hour, just as closely as we followed events in Nigeria”.