MOSCOW, February 26 (RIA Novosti) – The Russian Foreign Ministry has described the release of 15 Russian sailors from pre-trial detention in Nigeria as a “positive development” in a controversial arms-smuggling case.
A Lagos court ruled on Monday that the sailors, charged with illegally bringing weapons into Nigeria last year, be released on bail until the next hearing on April 8. The sailors, who have pleaded not guilty, are not allowed to leave Nigeria and will stay on the premises of the Russian embassy during further investigation.
"It is the first positive turn in developments surrounding the Russian sailors, as the Nigerian side…has earlier promised that the sailors would be given a chance to return to their homeland…,” the ministry said in a statement, referring to a December 21 phone conversation between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Nigeria counterpart, Olugbenga Ashiru.
“The ministry will closely monitor further developments in this situation until it is resolved,” the statement said.
Nigerian authorities detained the Myre Seadiver ship with the Russian crew in the port of Lagos on October 19 last year after they found an assortment of weapons, including 14 Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifles with some 8,000 rounds of ammunition, on board.
The owner, Moscow-based security firm Moran Security Group, said the arsenal was kept on board to protect against pirates who frequently prey on shipping along the Nigerian coast.
The Myre Seadiver is an auxiliary vessel used to support maritime oil extraction and transport operations. The owner earlier said the vessel had been authorized to make a port call in Lagos three weeks before the arrival and had all necessary documents declaring the presence of weapons on board.