Nigeria to prosecute Russian sailors over arms

Nigeria's navy has transferred for prosecution 15 Russian sailors detained since October for allegedly transporting illegal arms, a navy spokesman said Tuesday.

"The police have taken over the custody of the 15 Russians because the navy does not have the power to prosecute them," Lieutenant Commander Jerry Omodara of the Western Naval Command in Lagos, told AFP.

He said the police took over the case on Monday after inspecting the vessel and weapons currently docked at the navy's Beecroft's harbour in Apapa, Lagos, the nation's economic capital and main seaport.

"We have to keep the ship because the police do not have the capacity to keep it. Both the vessel and weapons will be released as exhibits during the trial of the suspects," he said.

Omodara did not however say when the trial will start.

"It is left for the police to decide when to start the trial. The navy has concluded its preliminary investigations," he added.

The MV Myre Seadiver was seized on October 19 off the coast of Lagos by a naval patrol which also detained its 15 crew members.

Weapons found on the vessel included 14 AK-47 rifles with 3,643 rounds of ammunition as well as 22 Benelli MR1 rifles with 4,955 rounds of ammunition.

The intended destination or planned use of the arms was not clear. Nigeria is awash with illegal weapons that have fuelled violence in Africa's most populous nation and largest oil producer.

Omodara said the vessel had left the Cook Islands in the South Pacific and arrived in Nigeria's waters without permission.

The ship was said to belong to the Moscow-based Moran Group and was flying a Dutch island flag at the time of its seizure.