Russian suspected arm smugglers remain in Navy’s custody

The 15 crew members of a Russian ship, who were detained on the suspicion of arm smuggling, have remained in the custody of the Nigerian Navy despite efforts by the Russian Embassy to secure their release.

The vessel belonging to Moscow-based security firm, Moran, was reportedly intercepted last weekend by naval patrol boats.

The cargo on the ship was said to have included 14 AK-47 rifles and 3,643 rounds of ammunition, as well as 22 Benelli MR1 rifles with 4,955 rounds.

According to the Lagos Naval Command spokesman, Lt. Commander Jerry Omodara, the command was waiting for directives from the Navy headquarters to determine the next course of action.

He said they had refused to release the crew members because there was no proof that it had authorisation to enter Nigeria’s territorial waters and because it was carrying arms and ammunition.

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Omodara said, “We did the right thing by holding them because they entered our territorial waters without authorisation, and they were carrying ammunition.

“The crew members are still in our custody and we have sent our report to the headquarters. We cannot release them because it is a serious issue. It is a diplomatic issue involving another country. So, we are waiting for response from the headquarters. When we get that, then we will know the next step and then they would be prosecuted.”

Moran told the British Broadcasting Corporation that the boat had all the required permissions to carry arms and had stopped in Lagos to change crew.

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The Director-General of the Moran Group, Alexey Badikov, reportedly said the vessel had authorisation to carry arms and was travelling from Madagascar, in East Africa to Conakry, the capital of Guinea in West Africa.

He also told the BBC that officials from the Russian embassy in Lagos had visited the crew members and were working to ensure their release.

Though the Navy said the vessel was travelling under a Dutch flag, Moran said the boat had a Cook Islands flag.

It would be recalled that a joint committee of the House of Representatives had last month directed the Navy to release a vessel, MT St. Vanessa, which it had arrested on suspicion of crude oil theft.

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After the meeting of the Joint Committee on Petroleum Resources and Navy with representatives of the Navy and the agents to the vessel, the House also directed the police to withdraw the charges against the crew.

The committee said from its investigations, the vessel had not broken any law and should therefore be released.

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