UK Press Association (UKPA)
The detention of four Britons in Eritrea has been “massively blown out of proportion”, a private security firm has said.
Foreign Secretary William Hague ordered UK ambassadors around the world to raise concerns with their Eritrean counterparts about the holding of the men, two of whom are former Royal Marines.
But naval security firm Protection Vessels International (PVI) said the men had not been arrested and the episode related to “confusion over fuel payment”.
The four Britons, two ex-Marine guards and two civilian crew members, were on board a merchant vessel that stopped in a port in the east African country to pick up supplies, a PVI spokesman said.
The spokesman for the security firm said:
“It’s been massively blown out of proportion. It’s a vessel that just went in for a fuel stop. There was basically confusion over fuel payment. No-one’s been arrested and all personnel are still on the vessel. There are some ongoing negotiations about that.”
Asked why the Foreign Secretary had taken an interest in the case, the spokesman said:
“Because of the difficulties of dealing with that particular country, those people have been involved in the negotiations.”
PVI, based in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, describes itself on its website as “the world’s leading specialist in ship security”.
The Foreign Office said it was “deeply concerned” that the Eritrean authorities were continuing to refuse to let British officials see the men, who are reported to have been held for over eight weeks.
Africa Minister Henry Bellingham summoned the Eritrean ambassador in London to the Foreign Office on January 17 and 20 to repeat requests for access to the four captives.