By John Helmer, Moscow
In a hearing in a Lagos court yesterday, Nigerian judge James Tsoho dismissed all charges against eight of the 15 Russian crewmen on the Myre Seadiver, a security support vessel arrested by the Nigerian Navy last October. At the time, the vessel, which had arrived with Nigerian Navy and Lagos port approvals on September 19, had rotated 11 mariners back to Moscow, and taken on board their replacements; they arrived by plane with visas issued by the Nigerian Embassy in Moscow.
Sources at court told Fairplay that of the seven remaining crewmen facing charges of illegal entry and arms smuggling, three were also among the newcomers. Confusion on the part of the Lagos prosecutors is blamed for the failure to include them in yesterday’s dismissals. Another hearing is scheduled for Friday [June 21].
The Nigerian Navy initiated the case eight months ago with several leaks to the local media, insisting that the Russians should be imprisoned without bail for four months. The Navy has refused to answer questions on theircharges, which the Russians say were trumped up to deter private contracting for tanker security in Nigerian waters. Read the full story here .
The Navy is also refusing to let Moran Security — the Moscow-based group which owns the vessel and provides anti-piracy services to Russian oil tankers — inspect the Myre Seadiver, which is moored at the Beecroft naval base. The Nigerians have been demanding a cash bond or fine of $500,000 for the vessel’s release. Moran has not paid, and the Russian Government has provided its surety.
The fate of the Myre Seadiver is also to be decided by Judge Tsoho tomorrow. Morgan spokesman Alexei Popov told Fairplay the master of the Myre Seadiver, Andrei Zhelayzkov, delayed entering the waters of Nigeria’s economic zone until it had received advance approvals from the Nigerian authorities, and had confirmed its own security with the Russian Embassy and Foreign Ministry.
Note: On Friday, Judge James Tsoho refused to allow the trial to proceed. This is the third postponement of the proceeding in as many months; Tsoho gave no reason. He has now scheduled the next hearing for July 9.