Eight crew members released after kidnapping from Maersk boxship

Bulgarian and Ukraine foreign ministers confirm release on Twitter.

Eight seafarers have been freed after being kidnapped from an AP Moller-Maersk-chartered containership off West Africa last month.

Bulgarian Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva confirmed that the men had been released in a posting on Twitter.

She said that the captain of the vessel, a Bulgarian national, was now “free and safe in a European country” and that he was “expected to return home soon”.

Ukraine foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba confirmed the release of the crew in a similar posting on his social media account.

“Good news. Another citizen of Ukraine, the crew member of Tommi Ritscher, captured in the Gulf of Guinea on April 19, is free,” he said.

“Ukraine’s embassy in the Federative Republic of Nigeria performed migration and customs procedures. Our sailor is in one of [the] EU countries. Soon, he will be repatriated to his native land.”

The 4,957-teu Tommi Ritscher (built 2014) was boarded by gunmen on 19 April while at anchor off Cotonou, Benin.

Eleven seafarers on board the Portuguese-flagged vessel took refuge in the citadel, but another eight were initially unaccounted for.

The boxship is owned by Woollerton Shipping and managed by Transeste Schiffahrt of Germany.

Over the weekend, the companies confirmed the eight were freed and were being repatriated.

“The freed seafarers have undergone medical checks and are in good spirits given their time in captivity,” they added.

“They have been in contact with their families and we ask that they are given privacy as they work to fully recover from their ordeal.”

The companies thanked the crew for their “courage and fortitude during this extremely difficult time”, as well as the families for their resilience as they waited and hoped.

They added: “Because of the ongoing scourge of piracy, no operational details will be provided about the release of the crew in respect to those seafarers who are still being held or may be abducted in future attacks.”

The kidnapped seafarers included Bulgarian, Ukrainian, Russian and Filipino nationals.