Four British citizens have been detained in Eritrea, the Foreign Office in London said Friday, amid reports that the men were former soldiers guarding a merchant ship from pirates.
A statement said Britain was “deeply concerned” that authorities in the Horn of Africa nation had not allowed consular officials to speak to or visit the men, adding that ministers and diplomats were continuing to demand access.
The Sun newspaper reported Friday that four ex-Royal Marines working for a security firm were seized eight weeks ago by the Eritrean navy while guarding a merchant vessel against pirates.
Piracy off the coast of nearby Somalia has been an international concern for years, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said last week that it “seems to be outpacing the efforts of the international community to stem it.”
The four British men were approached by the Eritrean navy and asked for their papers before shots were exchanged, The Sun reported, adding that they were accused of spying and are now languishing in a single cell.
In a statement, the Foreign Office said: “We can confirm the detention of four British nationals in Eritrea. “We have been urgently seeking consular access since we became aware of their detention. We are deeply concerned at the failure of the Eritrean authorities to allow us to speak to or visit the men.
“The minister for Africa, our ambassador and other officials continue to demand access.”
Fears for Aussie held in Eritrea
Fears have been raised for the safety of a 47-year-old Australian who has not been seen since being detained in Eritrea at Christmas while working for a British private security company.
Adrian Troy, an ocean-going captain and former British commando, was working for Protection Vessels International on anti-piracy operations when he and a colleague were arrested by authorities in the port of Massawa. They were then taken to Asmara.
Last night, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed it was working with British officials to gain access to Mr Troy, a dual national.
It is understood consular officials in London and Canberra are very concerned about the men’s health and safety because of Eritrea’s refusal to allow access to the pair, now held for more than eight weeks.
“DFAT is working closely with the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London and the British embassy in Eritrea, seeking to gain consular access,” a senior official said.
Eritrean officials have accused the two men of spying, according to a report in Britain’s Independent newspaper. The men are being held under extremely harsh conditions, it reported yesterday.