'Spy charge' Britons released by Eritrea

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The Independent Online

Four British men detained in Eritrea and held without consular access for more than five months have been released and are on their way back to London.

Sources close to the situation say that the men were released this morning, and families have been notified.

The men, two of whom are former Royal Marines, disappeared on Christmas Eve hours after their ship was intercepted by the Eritrean navy, following an unscheduled stop at a port in Massawa. They were sent back to the mainland and put in jail.

All were contractors working for the Hatfield-based security firm Protection Vessels International (PVI).

The ship was intercepted as it tried to leave Massawa, and the men – three of whom are named as Adrian Troy, Christopher Alan Collison and Alun Sims – were taken away.

Last week the Eritrean authorities published an extensive document accusing the four UK nationals of espionage, terrorism and using one of its islands of Romia as an arms depot. Included were a series of photographs showing assault weapons which it says were picked up on an island which the government said the Eritrean authorities had “invaded”.

The company responded with an “immediate and unreserved” apology, insisting that the equipment the men were carrying was “standard issue for anti-piracy operations”.

In a statement to The Independent, Tom Sims, the son of Alun Sims, one of the detainees said: "I'm more then 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 now, but they know who they are and we'll always be grateful."

A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “We are pleased that 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 the State of Qatar for helping facilitate their return."