PORT HARCOURT – The five international construction workers kidnapped last week after their vehicle was attacked and driver killed have been released, with three of the men sustaining injuries and another two in critical but stable condition.
The commissioner of police in Cross River state, Jimoh Ozi-Obeh, told reporters that the men, including three Australians, a New Zealander and a South African, had been set free, without giving further details.
They were working for Australian mining and engineering company Macmahon, which has been contracted to cement major LafargeHolcim in the state.
The men were seized with their two Nigerian colleagues early on Wednesday morning in the Akpabuyo district of Cross River, near the state capital, Calabar.
“Our men are at a safe location, but unfortunately five of them were injured during the incident,” Macmahon chief executive Sy van Dyk said at a press conference in Perth, Australia.
“Three of the men have wounds and two remain in a serious but stable condition.
“They all are receiving specialist medical attention. Our priority now is to ensure that all of them are stabilised and ultimately given the all clear to travel.”
Cross River state security adviser Jude Ngaji had earlier said only the two Nigerians had injuries “while one or two others have some scars”.
Van Dyk refused to say whether a ransom was paid, while thanking the authorities in Nigeria and a team of specialist international security advisers “who have worked with us to help secure this outcome”.
Kidnapping for ransom has been a long-standing problem in southern Nigeria, particularly in the oil-producing delta region, where criminal gangs target wealthy Nigerians and expatriate workers.
Most are usually released after the payment of a ransom.
The families of two of the Australians kidnapped, Mark Gabbedy and Jack Couranz, said it had been an “unbelievably stressful” time.
“Obviously we are very relieved — we have spoken to Jack and he seems in very good spirits,” the Couranz family said in a statement.
Macmahon has an $18-million per year contract with the United Cement Company of Nigeria (UniCem) for quarrying operations at UniCem’s cement manufacturing plant at Mfamosing, near Calabar.
UniCem is a joint venture between Franco-Swiss conglomerate LafargeHolcim and Flour Mills of Nigeria, according to the Australian firm’s website.