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Kalashnikov guns for criminals, or to protect them?

23.02.2013 10:16

In the economic capital of Nigeria - Lagos, the Supreme Court held a preliminary hearing in the case of 15 Russian sailors charged with smuggling weapons. The sailors were denied bail by Judge Okechukwu Okeke. They remain in prison cell. Their confinement conditions are bad enough; the ship-owner company together with the Embassy of the Russian Federation is doing everything it can that sailors may feel perfectly fine in custody.

According to the Russian Ambassador to Nigeria Alexander Polyakov, sailors did not agree with the allegations. According to him, since the prosecution failed to present sufficient evidence of guilt, the court session was postponed to February 25.

The Nigeria Navy seized the Myre Seadiver vessel with Russian sailors on board in October last year on the pretext that the vessel was not allowed to enter Nigerian waters. But the main reason for the detention was the discovery of small arms and ammunition: 14 AK-47 submachine guns, 42 rifles and more than 8.5 thousand cartridges. Ernest Ezebil said at the court hearing that the main charges - the smuggling of arms and ammunition, and illegal possession of a weapon, failure to declare the ship's cargo, entering the territorial waters without permission.

Representatives of the ship-owner from Moran Security Group Ltd. Company consider the arrest illegal and account the presence of weapons on board for the safety requirements. According to them, the vessel works in the zone dangerous for navigation, where the pirates are operating. In Lagos the vessel made a stop for the crew rotation. The ship crew is engaged in the maintenance of tanker fleet and oil platforms, provides armed escorts. It entered the Gulf of Guinea, after a planned operation in the Indian Ocean. Currently, the detained vessel is in one of the Nigerian Naval Bases.

Arms smuggling is one of the most acute problems for the Nigerian authorities, who are fighting with the terrorist Islamic groups in the north of the country and bandit formations operating in the oil-producing region in the south and engaged in piracy and kidnapping of foreign workers for ransom. Weapons smuggled into Nigeria primarily end up in the hands of Islamic militants and criminal gangs. Nigeria is considered a transfer point for the transportation of arms to other countries in West Africa. Particularly, in 2010, a large cargo of rocket launchers and ammunition was intercepted in the port of Lagos.

Russia's Foreign Ministry as far back as December last year reported that the arrest of Russian sailors "does not correspond to the friendly nature of Russian-Nigerian relations, is contrary to the partners' assurances they have allegedly taken long ago a decision to release the ship and its crew."

However, as the experts note, judging by recent events, this decision has been ignored by the Nigerian authorities. Instead of allowing the sailors to return home, they were in January transferred to police by the Nigerian Navy Command "to complete the investigative actions and trial." The Nigerian side accounts this for reasons of national security, the need to complete the fact finding of the ship entry in the territorial waters and weapons availability on board.

The Russian Foreign Ministry expresses hope that the Nigerian Court will eventually quash the charges and release the sailors. The more especially as these accusations can not really be called other than absurd.