US Sailors Held Hostage Off Nigeria Freed

PHOTO: The C-Retriever is an oil supply vessel owned by U.S. marine transport group Edison Chouest Offshore.
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Two American sailors kidnapped by pirates off the coast of Nigeria last month were released over the weekend and are on their way home, according to two U.S. officials.

The civilians, yanked from their oil transport ship by unidentified gunmen, were freed after negotiations successfully yielded a ransom payment, the officials said. They were both safe and healthy when released, the officials said.

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki confirmed the sailors' release and said the department "welcomes" the news. She declined to provide further details.

ABC News previously reported the U.S. company for whom the sailors worked, the maritime transportation company Edison Chouest Offshore, was negotiating for the sailors' release. U.S. government policy generally bars it from paying ransom for its citizens, but the policy does not extend to private companies.

The mariners' ship, called the C-Retriever, was attacked in the early daylight hours Oct. 23 by an unknown number of armed assailants who then separated the crew by nationality and made off with the Americans, a Pentagon official told ABC News the day of the attack. The captives were only identified as the ship's Captain and its Chief Engineer.

While globally piracy was down last year to its lowest levels in seven years, cases in Nigeria are on the rise. According to the International Maritime Bureau, pirate attacks off Nigeria's coast have jumped by a third this year -- allegedly perpetrated by criminal gangs who are looking for cargo ships with commodities, and seeking ransom for hostages. Around the world there have already been more than 200 "incidents" involving piracy this year, including 11 hijackings, the IMB said.

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