Page last updated at 22:35 GMT, Saturday, 13 June 2009 23:35 UK

Briton speaks of hostage ordeal

Matthew Maguire
Matthew Maguire was released from captivity on Friday

A Briton held hostage for nine months in southern Nigeria's swamps has told how he feared he might never be freed.

Oil worker Matthew Maguire, 35, of Birkenhead, Merseyside, was released on Friday by the Niger Delta militants who had taken him from a ship in September.

The father-of-three told the BBC: "It was... very hard and I had bad moments when I didn't think I'd get out."

But he said it was fellow UK hostage Robin Hughes, 59, who suffered the most and Mr Maguire had feared he might die.

Mr Hughes, the ship's captain - who is originally from St Margaret's Bay in Kent, was freed in April when Mr Maguire and some villagers who had taken over the men's care were able to convince the kidnappers that he needed urgent medical attention.

The men's ordeal began when militants crept aboard their ship at night while it was moored in Port Harcourt.

The militants are fighting against the Nigerian government and the oil companies working in the region, who they accuse of despoiling their land and stealing their wealth.

Mr Maguire told BBC World Service reporter Abdulahi Kaura Abubakar in an exclusive interview: "We were hijacked by eight to 10 militants. They took us off to shore in a smaller vessel, where they scuttled the vessel then beached it.

"Then they took us by a smaller speedboat to a village not far from where they scuttled the vessel."

A total of 27 crew members were kidnapped that night. Most were soon released, but the militants held onto Mr Maguire and Mr Hughes.

The kidnappers are thought to have demanded a ransom, plus the release of their leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, Henry Okah.

He is currently being held by the Nigerian government on arms trafficking charges.

For the first three nights, Mr Maguire and Mr Hughes were moved regularly by the militants, who were wary of government troops searching for the two British hostages.

It was a tense time for both.

"It was ups and downs," Mr Maguire said. "Sometimes they wanted to be friendly and then not so friendly.

"One minute we were going to be released and the next minute we weren't. It was hard, very hard and I had bad moments when I didn't think I'd get out."

My bones were starting to show through, due to lack of food and bad water
Matthew Maguire

Three months into their ordeal and the Britons' health was beginning to suffer.

Food provided by the militants was inadequate and the water was contaminated, Mr Maguire said.

Added to that, he developed a problem with an infected root canal.

"I couldn't get antibiotics for it. There was an abscess in my mouth that just kept bursting all the time.

"I was in a lot of pain and I kept asking for medication, but they wouldn't get me anything apart from paracetamol, but that wasn't what I was after."

He added: "Around Christmas time they weren't feeding us - I lost a lot of weight.

"My bones were starting to show through, due to lack of food and bad water."

However, the situation improved when the militants handed over the hostages to local villagers, who were able to take better care of the men.

ry Hughes (l) and Matthew John Maguire
Mr Maguire said he was worried about the health of Robin Hughes (l).

Mr Maguire said: "From then on it wasn't the militants feeding us - it was the local people in a Niger Delta fishing village and they fed us well.

"They looked after me and fed me back up because I was starting to feel weak and my strength had gone. I'd like to thank them."

But for Mr Maguire's older companion, the ordeal was proving too much.

"I was really worried about the captain. He wasn't well, he wasn't breathing right. I was really worried about him and I told the militants: 'If you don't release that guy he's going to die.'

"I told them: 'You need to keep me - I'm younger and fitter than him. But release that guy before he dies - he's got a family.

"They didn't want to release him, but the villagers helped me as well - they put pressure on the militants saying: 'He needs to go to hospital'. Between me and the villagers we got them to release him."

Mr Hughes was freed in April and was able to reassure Mr Maguire's family that the last remaining hostage was fit and well thanks to the local people who had looked after him.

Mr Maguire said: "The villagers helped me - they helped the captain a lot as well.

"The villagers themselves aren't bad people - they are good people and I'd like to thank them."

Strangely, Mr Maguire's captors released an e-mail just before he was released claiming he had declined to leave because he wanted to stay and help their cause.

But he denied that, saying: "I've always wanted to go home. I was missing my wife and kids, so that's not true."

As for his future plans, he said he now craved normality.

"I want to go home and enjoy myself a bit, because I've been in the jungle a long time."



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