Fifteen Turkish sailors arrived in Istanbul early Sunday following their abduction by pirates off the coast of Nigeria.
The sailors were taken early Saturday to the Turkish Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria under strict security.
Turkish Ambassador Melih Ulueren and other officials welcomed the seamen who were kidnapped after their Liberian-flagged ship was hijacked by pirates.
The crew was rescued Friday and brought back to Turkey via a Turkish Airlines flight.
They were welcomed by their families and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu at Istanbul Airport.
Arriving their homeland after being captive for 21 days, Captain Mustafa Kaya told reporters: “We have gained our freedom after 21 days, now we are happy to meet our families. [The feeling of] Turning back to our country cannot be described by words.”
Kaya thanked Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Foreign Minister Cavusoglu, and Ambassador Ulueren for their help.
“They made all kinds of sacrifice they could. Also, our company was always with us in these negotiations by being extremely careful,” he said.
Stating that they had an adventurous period in the forest under harsh conditions for 21 days, Kaya said they were kept in the same environment with reptiles and dangerous animals.
“We were always under the custody of armed people. But we were not exposed to any physical violence and treatment,” he said, adding that sometimes they had a hard time psychologically.
Kaya said the pirates were persuaded through negotiations conducted by the representatives of their company, Borealis, in Germany and the UK.
Unsal Dilsiz, another sailor, said one Azerbaijani sailor among them was killed and he regretted the incident, condoling with his family.
Prior to the sailors’ arrival to Turkey, Cavusoglu announced the return journey on Twitter late Saturday. “We are waiting for you with your families,” he said.
In the attack, 15 of Mozart’s crew of 19 were abducted on Jan. 23. One, an Azerbaijani national, was killed.
Following the attack, the ship anchored in nearby Port-Gentil, but with only three surviving crew members on board. They were taken on Jan. 30 to Turkey.
The vessel was managed by Borealis Maritime, a firm based in London and Hamburg, Germany.