Joy as Britons freed after 5 months in Eritrea jail on spy charges

Four British men who have been held in a north African jail from more than five months after being accused of spying have been released

The men, two of whom are former Royal Marines, have been held in Eritrea since Christmas Eve last year without consular access.

However, last night the men were on their way back to the UK to be reunited with their families after they were released following intervention by the government of Qatar.

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The two ex-marines and two civilian crew members were working for security firm Protection Vessels International (PVI), a company which works to protect ships from piracy.

The group, three of who have been named in reports as Adrian Troy, Christopher Alan Collison and Alun Sims, disappeared in December last year hours after their ship was intercepted by the Eritrean navy.

They were accused of entering Eritrean territorial waters with weapons and illegally entering a sovereign island and held in jail for six months without any access to British diplomats.

In a statement last night, Mr Sims's son Tom said: "I'm more than happy to say that we are so relieved and a huge weight has been lifted. I can't wait to see him tomorrow as we have a lot of catching up to do."

Dom Mee, the founder and operations director of Protection Vessels International, said: "This is obviously great news and all of us at PVI are very pleased to have the guys on their way back to the UK to be reunited with their families.

"PVI has worked tirelessly with many individuals to secure their release, too many to mention, but they know who they are and we'll always be grateful."

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: "We are pleased the four British nationals have now been able to leave Eritrea and can be reunited with family and friends. We are very grateful to the government of Qatar for helping facilitate their return.

"We remain concerned, however, that at no time did the Eritreans respond to our requests for consular access."

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The Foreign Office had become aware of the situation on 24 December last year. It updated its Eritrea travel advice on 24 January to highlight the difficulty it had gaining consular access to the men.

The men's release came days after it was reported that Eritrean authorities had accused the four of espionage and terrorism. In a televised statement broadcast before yesterday's developments, they said the men were in possession of weapons.

The Eritrean government also said the men regretted trying to escape from the port of Massawa, where there was an apparent dispute about payment for fuel and supplies.

It said the men "bear accountability" for "acts of invasion, organising terrorism and espionage".

Mr Mee said the charges were based on a misunderstanding, saying the men were only in Eritrea because they needed supplies and the boat needed repairs.


A FORMER Italian colony, Eritrea was occupied by the British in 1941.

In 1952 the UN resolved to establish it as an autonomous entity federated with Ethiopia, as a compromise between Ethiopian claims for sovereignty and Eritrean aspirations for independence.

Ten years later Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie annexed it, triggering a 32-year armed struggle.

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Eritrea emerged from its war of independence in 1993, only to plunge once again into conflict, first with Yemen and then with Ethiopia. Today, under a fragile peace, it faces developing its economy.