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International mariners now seriously contemplate diminishing rewards and escalating risks associated with conducting business with Nigeria. The paralysis is a direct result of the Nigerian government’s capricious treatment of unsuspecting sailors and their captains, despite proper licenses, peaceful entry, and in this case, a most noble intention: protecting the region from the scourge of piracy.
In October 2012, the crew of the MV Myre Seadiver entered Nigeria’s waters with all appropriate clearances and quietly conducted permitted routine maritime operations off the coast for weeks without incident. On the eve of departure, without provocation or justification, the entire crew of 15 Russian seamen was apprehended at gunpoint by the Nigerian Navy and arrested without charges; the ship and previously declared arms and ammunition were seized. While exorbitant bail has since been posted and the crewmembers have been transferred from grim prison confinement to hospitable conditions provided by the Russian Embassy, the current fate of the crew of the MV Myre Seadiver remains bleak.
Scurrilous allegations leveled in the self-interests of the Nigerian courts against the crew of the MV Myre Seadiver are exacerbated by the absence of sufficient international maritime oversight. Entities such as the International Maritime Organization (IMO) have made commendable strides along the eastern coast of Africa, benefiting the region and international seafarers alike, but these legal frameworks have yet to be firmly established in Nigeria or along the western coast. Numerous IMO resolutions regulating counter-piracy measures address the legal carriage of arms onboard vessels within High Risk Areas, clearly define permissions granted to ship owners to protect their vessels (including the provision of maritime security services), and, conversely, strict guidelines for the conduct of port authorities and flag administrations. Such international maritime oversight could very well have prevented the current intractable problem.
To its own detriment, Nigeria has thus far chosen to ignore such international maritime conventions by arresting and detaining the innocent crew of the MV Myre Seadiver. Nigeria’s betrayal of trustworthy maritime partners clearly defies logic, contradicts the evidence, and actually further jeopardizes her own financial future by depriving her citizens of business opportunities with lucrative international markets.
The swift and unconditional release of the crew of the MV Myre Seadiver, even now, will give the international maritime community reason to cautiously reconsider trade relations with Nigeria.
A full account of the extraordinary tale of the MV Myre Seadiver and its crew courtesy of John Helmer can be found here, while below is a timeline of events:
June 4, 2012
The MV Myre Seadiver’s operator, Moscow-based Moran Security Group, was granted Nigeria’s
Registration Certificate providing for legal “Carriage of arms and ammunition for maritime security
August 31, 2012:
Moran Security Group engaged the local Nigerian shipping agent, Blueseas Maritime Services, as the party
responsible for securing port authorizations permitting the MV Myre Seadiver’s scheduled arrival in Nigeria’s
Port of Lagos on September 19, 2012. All fees associated with the agent’s services were paid in full on a
September 19, 2012:
Blueseas Maritime Services applied for, and obtained, all requisite authorizations for the MV Myre Seadiver
to enter the Port of Lagos with a small stock of arms.
The agent provided written confirmation to Moran Security Group that “The naval authorities are duly
informed of Seadiver’s arrival tomorrow. There’ll be no issues.” The agent added… “Further to below, we
received a call from the naval base informing us that while Seadiver is at the anchorage, the Navy patrol
boat on routine surveillance may likely alongside for routine check.”
The MV Myre Seadiver’s Master recorded “Permission is granted, proceeding to the road of Lagos in
accordance with instructions received from the agent.”
September 20, 2012:
The MV Myre Seadiver anchored in the Port of Lagos.
September 20 – October 18, 2012:
The crew of the MV Myre Seadiver conducted routine activities while stationed – substituting the relief crew,
performing basic ship maintenance and replenishing provisions and bunkering supplies.
October 19, 2012:
In a surprise attack, seizing the MV Myre Seadiver, the Nigerian Navy patrol apprehended and arrested the
Master and the entire crew as they were preparing to sail from the Port of Lagos.
October 23, 2012:
A Nigerian Navy spokesperson, Lieutenant Commander Jerry Omodara, claimed that “Preliminary
investigations show that the MV Myre Seadiver was laden with assorted weapons… There is no indication
that the vessel was authorized to come into Nigeria, and worse still, to carry arms.”
January 7, 2013:
After several months of imprisonment without charges, in harsh conditions (including lack of drinking water),
all crewmembers of the MV Myre Seadiver were obliged to appear in Nigerian court.
During this court appearance, no charges were leveled by Nigerian prosecutors.
February 18, 2013:
Despite being in possession of visas duly issued by the Nigerian Embassy in Moscow, the crew was
charged with “illegal entry to the country.”
Despite being in possession of written approval by the Flag Administration to carry weaponry specific to the
professional maritime security objectives and itinerary, the crew was charged with “illegal possession of
arms & ammunition.” The inventory of materials declared and approved precisely matched the inventory
later seized during the arrest.
Despite full compliance with International Maritime Organization (IMO) resolutions governing the declaration
of arms & ammunition (notably the Master’s control of weaponry and safekeeping inside the vessel), the
crew was charged with “illegal importation of arms & ammunition.”
Nigerian prosecutors stated that “Although an accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty… We submit
that the presumption of innocence is not absolute or a magic wand”… and “the human right or individual
right must be suspended until the national security can be protected or well taken care of.”
February 25, 2013:
All fifteen MV Myre Seadiver crewmembers have been temporarily released on bail to Russia’s ambassador
The bond for the release of the MV Myre Seadiver vessel was set at $500,000 but the vessel is still in the
custody of the Nigerian Navy.
Nigerian prosecutors have called for life imprisonment for the entire fifteen crewmembers.
The case was adjourned until April 10, 2013.