By Gabriel Harrison.
Tunis, 2 September 2017:
Three Azerbaijani nationals first captured by terrorists after they scuttled their small coastal tanker off Sirte 18 months ago and then held first by the so-called Islamic State then by Bunyan Marsous (BM), have finally been released and flown home.
It is not known why the Turkish-flagged Kalkanlar 1 was sunk on 27 February 2016. It has been claimed it was involved in smuggling diesel fuel. The three-man crew were captured by the so-called Islamic State (IS).
At some point after their detention, they were able to phone their families to say merely that they had sunk their vessel, the Azerbaijan Press Agency said today. Thereafter they appear to have remained in a prison until it was overrun by BM forces last year in their drive to wrest control of Sirte from IS.
It would seem that BM then continued to hold the men on suspicion that they were IS members. Though Libya has an embassy in the Azerbaijani capital Baku, Azerbaijan currently has no envoys in Libya. Thus Turkish diplomats were reportedly involved in long negotiations to secure the crew’s release and visited them while they were detained.
On Thursday, the men, named as Namiq Salmanov, Movlud Rashidbayli and Farid Aliyev, were released and today they were flown to Istanbul on their way to Baku. The Azerbaijani government has thanked local Libyan diplomats, the Turkish embassy in Tripoli and the Presidency Council (PC) for their help in freeing the crew.
The last recorded position of the 35-metre Kalkanlar 1, according to MarineTraffic.com was in November 2015 when it was in the western Turkish port of Aliaga.