SEATTLE – A Seattle film crew detained in Nigeria over the weekend has been released, U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell, Jon Tester and Max Baucus said Wednesday.
The Americans and their Nigerian companion were picked up by American embassy representatives at a detention center and taken to a hotel in Abuja, said Leslye Wood, spokeswoman for “Sweet Crude,” the documentary the crew was filming about oil production in the Niger River Delta.
“Obviously we are so happy and relieved to know that they have indeed been released,” Wood said, a few hours after hearing from Cantwell’s office and the State Department. “We sure will feel better when we can hear their voices for ourselves.”
Sandi Cioffi, 46, director of the documentary “Sweet Crude,” has produced or directed several films, including “Crocodile Tears,” about an HIV-positive man who makes a deal with the devil, and “Terminal 187,” a half-hour drama on teen violence.
She also traveled to South Africa to film that country’s transition from apartheid in 1995.
Tammi Sims, 35, a Montana native; Cliff Worsham, 39, and Sean Porter, 25, make up the rest of the crew detained in Nigeria. Joel Bisina, a peace mediator and founder of Niger Delta Professionals for Development in Warri, was traveling with them.
Cantwell said the five will have to complete final processing by Nigerian authorities on Friday, but are no longer being detained. Information concerning their health and when the filmmakers will return to the United States was not immediately available Wednesday afternoon.
Tester and Baucus said the crew’s release from custody is good news, but both would continue to work until they were back in the United States.
Tammi Pimley Sims graduated from Joplin High School and Montana State University, her family has said.
The filmmakers were accused Saturday of violating the country’s laws by traveling in a restricted area.
This was their fourth trip to the Niger Delta during the past two and a half years. Wood, who traveled with the group on two of those trips, said the filmmakers had no previous problems but was aware that Nigeria can be a dangerous place.
She emphasized that the film crew entered the country legally on April 5 and was transparent in its visa application, making it clear that they would be completing the filming of the documentary.
Friends and family of the missing film crew were extremely concerned about their safety, Wood said Monday, especially since several other Western photographers and filmmakers have been detained over the past few years.
Various foreigners have been picked up in the Niger Delta in recent months as security forces have stepped up efforts to quell unrest in the region. Several people, including two filmmakers working on a different documentary, were expelled from the country on alleged visa violations.