LAGOS – (AFP) – A Nigerian court granted bail Monday to 15 Russian seamen detained since October over alleged illegal possession of arms and set the trial for April 10.
Lagos high court judge Okechukwu Okeke said the crew of the MV Myre Seadiver should be released following a written commitment by the Russian ambassador in Nigeria to produce the suspects on demand.
The court also ordered that the vessel be released after the payment of a bond in the sum of $500,000.
Defence lawyer Chidi Okafor said his clients were innocent and the ship was contracted to provide security to vessels off the region, which sees repeated pirate attacks.
He said permission was also sought and secured before the vessel entered Nigeria’s territorial waters.
“Contrary to misinformation, the Russians did not enter Nigeria illegally and did not import any arms,” Okafor told AFP.
“The ship in question is a security vessel providing security to merchant vessels in the high seas because of the rising cases of piracy and kidnapping.”
The MV Myre Seadiver was seized on October 19 off the coast of Lagos by a naval patrol which also detained its 15 crew members.
Weapons found on the vessel included 14 AK-47 rifles with 3,643 rounds of ammunition as well as 22 Benelli MR1 rifles with 4,955 rounds of ammunition.
The intended destination or planned use of the arms was not clear.
In December, Russia’s foreign ministry said it had reached a deal to secure the release of the sailors, explaining that Nigeria had agreed to drop the case to preserve cordial relations between the two nations.
That pact, if it ever existed, appears to have been sidelined.
The vessel reportedly belonged to the Moscow-based Moran Group and was flying a Dutch island flag at the time of its seizure.
Piracy and kidnapping are common off Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer and most populous nation.