The Nigerian Navy (NN) Monday handed over the 15-man Russian crew of the MV Myre Seadiver vessel to the police for further investigation and possible prosecution.
The vessel was arrested on October 19, last year, at the Lagos roadstead of the nation’s waterways by personnel of the NNS Andoni for illegal entry into the nation’s waterways as well as for non-declaration of cargo and possession of a cache of arms and ammunition.
The vessel, which departed from the port of Toliara Madagascar en route Conakry in Senegal, was intercepted on Nigerian waters with about 14 assorted AK47 rifles with 3,643 ammunition and 20 Benelli MRI 20 barrel with 4955 ammunition.
The 15-man crew was formally handed over to the men of the Special Fraud Unit (SFU), Force Criminal and Investigation Department at the Western Naval Command (WNC), Apapa, Lagos.
The crewmembers were identified as Lopatin Alexey, Varlygin Igor, Mishin Pavel, Dmitry Bannykh, Alexander Tsarikov, Kononov Sergei and Vorobev Mikhail.
Others were Baranovskiy Nikolay, Zhelyazkov Andrey, Savchenko Sergey, Illia Shubov, Oleksiuk Stephan, Alexander Tsarikov and Korotchenko Andrey.
Overseeing the handover session, the Commanding Officer, NNS Beecroft, Commodore Martin Njoku, said the navy was releasing only the crewmembers to the police and not the vessel and ammunition.
He said: “As our constitution demands and in the spirit of inter-cooperation, we are handing over the crewmembers to the Nigeria Police to continue their investigations.
“Note that we are handing over for further investigation and necessary action because we have done our preliminary investigations where we discovered that they were carrying fire arms.”
While receiving the crewmembers, the Deputy Commissioner of Police, SFU, Bashiru Mu’azu, said the police would proceed with investigations from where the navy had stopped.
He said: “For the navy to have handed over the suspects to the police, it means the suspects have a case to answer and we will ensure that a thorough investigation is carried out.
“We will also ensure speedy and quality investigation as well as prosecution of the suspects, if need be. But for now, we will detain the Russians until we complete our investigation.
“So far, we have no clue as to the owner of the arms and ammunition or where the suspects where carrying them to but that is what we intend to find out.”
Although he refused to disclose the identity of the owner of the arms and ammunition, the vessel’s captain, Zhelyazkov Andrey, said the Russian consul was fully aware of their case.
Owned by the Moran group, THISDAY gathered that the arrested ship was flying a Dutch Island flag when it was sighted in Lagos on October 20, 2012.
While confirming the arrest of the ship, the Flag Officer Commanding (FOC), Western Naval Command, Rear Admiral Ameen Ikioda, had said the vessel entered the Nigerian waters without appropriate notifications from the naval authorities.
He said: “Part of our responsibility in Lagos area is to create a very conducive maritime space for legitimate maritime businesses to thrive. Therefore, anytime we see something that is infringing on such an opportunity, we try to see how best we can address it."
“The discovery of the weapons and ammunition on board is an infringement of the laws of this country.”
Information obtained from the ship's website shows that its operation has been suspended following the arrest.
But would the captain and the crew of a ship need such a huge cache of arms and ammunition merely for ‘self defence’? Are they coming to war in Nigeria? With 14 AK rifles and other brand of guns as well as almost 9,000 ammunition recovered from the 15-man crew, that means almost each of them, including the cook, had a rifle. And even if the weapons were truly for self-defence, why were they not declared as required by diplomatic standards and routines? Worse still, they did not have the requisite papers to enter the Nigerian waters. And that seems to suggest some conspiratorial moves.
No doubt, with the increased wave of violent crimes in Nigeria, powered by the avalanche of small and illegal arms, the need to increase surveillance on all routes cannot be over emphasised.