By John Helmer, Moscow
New records of the Myre Seadiver’s ill-fated stay at Lagos, Nigeria, have been made available, showing the Lagos port authorities and the Nigerian Navy gave permission for the Russian security vessel to enter the port with a stock of small arms, and that these remained on board at an anchorage in the Lagos roadstead for four weeks, before the 15-man crew and the vessel were arrested by the Nigerian Navy.
The documents also reveal that the Lagos shipping agent for the vessel had applied for and received the required authorizations. “There’ll be no issues”, he wrote to the vessel owner, Moran Security Group in Moscow on September 19.
A month later on October 20, as the Myre Seadiver was getting ready to sail, a Nigerian Navy patrol arrested the crew and vessel. A statement by Navy Rear Admiral Ameen Ikioda, published by the government’s Voice of Nigeria, claimed: “we intercepted the vessel on the suspicion of carrying arms and ammunition on board, the vessel had 15 men on board most of which were Russians and was flying a Dutch Island Flag [sic] and belongs to the Morgan Group Moscow.”
A Navy spokesman, Lieutenant Commander Jerry Omodara, announced on October 23 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.”
In a statement to the Federal High Court in Lagos on February 18 a prosecutor, Ernest Ezebilo, was quoted by a Nigerian newspaper as claiming “the accused had also refused to declare the content of the vessel, contrary to the provisions of the Customs and Excise Management Act, 2002.” The Nigerian press are reporting the arms charge against the Russians as illegal importation.
The Myre Seadiver is registered in the Cook Islands, a Pacific territory legally associated with New Zealand. The registration certificate provides for “carriage of arms and ammunition for maritime security purposes”. It is dated June 4, 2012.
The Nigerian Navy ordered the vessel to the Beecroft naval base at Lagos, and the crew were imprisoned. These men were not, however, those who had arrived on the ship the month before. That crew had disembarked on September 20, and been replaced by a new crew. The subsequent story of their four-month detention, and the court hearing this week releasing the crew on bail to the Russian Embassy, can be read here.
According to the log of the Myre Seadiver master, Andrei Zhelayzkov, on September 18 the vessel was at sea outside Nigeria’s exclusive economic zone, its engine off, while it waited for the agent to relay the authorizations which had been filed to the port. On September 19 the captain’s log says: “permission is granted, proceeding to the road of Lagos in accordance with instructions received from the agent.”
The Nigerian shipping agent responsible for the port authorizations has been identified as Blueseas Maritime Services Nigeria Ltd. The company website claims: “Our goal is to be the leader in the industry, redefining and setting standards for improved service delivery. We will continue to raise the bar and by so doing bring value added services to our teeming clients.” Blueseas says its services include “managing the Interface between Owners/Managers with Government Agencies”, and “Protective Agency”.
The arrest, detention, and trial of the Russian crew for arms smuggling depend on the 10-year old Blueseas, whose managing director is Chris Nkwonta. A source in Lagos says that when the local court began hearing the charges against the Russian crew this week the company testified that no declaration of the weapons found on board had been presented to the agent.
Records of Moran Security in Moscow show that it had engaged Blueseas in August to prepare for the Myre Seadiver’s scheduled arrival at Lagos port on September 19. The day before arrival, Blueseas received $10,155 from Moran Security. Over the next three weeks Blueseas took a total of $41,568.60 in payments for its services. During its month at berth, the Myre Seadiver received bunkers, food and ship’s supplies, while repairs were made to engines, pumps, and air conditioning.
Stanley Chineye, an assistant logistics manager for BlueSeas, confirms his name, title and function. On September 13, Chineye emailed Moran Security in Moscow, saying: “Attached lists/ docs are ok and we’ll approach the authorities to notify them about vsl’s call at the Lagos anchorage and ensure hitch-free operation.” Chineye’s reference to “attached lists” includes an arms and ammunition list, crew list, ports of call list, and other particulars, sent to Blueseas on September 13, five hours before Chineye confirmed receiving them.
The arms and ammunition list is identical with the inventory reported by the Navy a month later.
On September 14, Chineye reported: “We’ve just finished our meeting with the Naval authorities iro vsl’s intended call at the Lagos anchorage and based on our long standing cordial r/ship, they’ve assured us a hitch-free operation. However, they’ve advised we notify them of vsl’s ETA to update their patrol team accordingly.” Hours before the vessel arrived at its planned port anchorage on September 19, Moran Security asked Chineye for “your [reply] about authorities permission for the vessel with arms & ammunition on board. I need your [reply] in order to avoid any possible complications with the authorities.” Chineye’s email reply came 19 minutes later, saying “the Naval authorities are duly informed of Seadiver’s arrival tomorrow. There’ll be no issues.”
Email correspondence from Blueseas to Moran Security in Moscow shows payments for security services for the Myre Seadiver in Lagos included “Navy Admin fee + 4 armed guards daily allowance = USD7,000( All cost inclusive ).”
A London shipping and freight executive with long experience of West African operations says: “The port charges are the normal posted prices but the ‘security’ is a bit high in that the Navy and others are demanding an administrative fee above the daily costs of guards. These are high but at the top end of the normal range.”
By telephone Chineye was asked to explain why documents and emails he signed to Moran Security regarding the Myre Seadiver were contradicted by court testimony. Chineye responded: “I have never appeared in court, so I don’t know where you got the information.” Chineye was asked to explain the contradiction between the lists and documents he had received, the approvals he had arranged with the port authorities and Navy, the subsequent Navy announcements, and the charges against the Myre Seadiver and crew. He refused to answer and cut his mobile telephone connection. He did not respond to email requests to clarify the record of Blueseas services for the vessel.
The Nigerian Navy does not publish contact details for its headquarters spokesman or Lagos command. Lieutenant-Colonel O.M.(“Mike”) Azuikpe, a deputy defence adviser at the Nigerian High Commission in London, has refused to respond to requests for clarification of the evidence or comment on allegations against the Navy. Azuikpe also refused to disclose his full name, though this appears in the High Commission list published by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth office. Azuikpe said he was the “boss” of Captain I.M. Albara, the Navy attaché. The latter was said to be in Nigeria and incommunicado.
Azuikpe’s name and rank were confirmed by his secretary. She also confirmed receiving questions regarding the case against the ship and crew. Azuikpe did not reply, but an unsigned email received from the High Commission reports: “I am directed to give you the contact adds to DA MOSCOW in respect of the inform you firstname.lastname@example.org”. The military attaché at the Nigerian Embassy in Moscow said through a spokesman that the embassy’s email system is often non-operational. The questions for Azuikpe and the Navy were sent to a personal email address instead.
There has been no subsequent reply from the London or Moscow officers, or from the Lagos naval command.
An official statement from Moran Security in Moscow explains the company’s understanding of the affair. “We consider our crew as innocent and their detention as unfounded because the charges provided to them are contradicted by the facts and documents refuting “illegal entry to the country [and] illegal possession of arms & ammunition”. The first charge is refuted by the fact that the major part of the crew has received visas at the Nigerian Embassy in Moscow, came through the [Lagos] airport and embarked on the vessel through the shipping agent. Also, we have implemented the crew change in Port Lagos officially through the immigration authorities which means legal entry to the country.”
“As regards illegal possession, according to IMO [International Maritime Organization] resolutions we obtained Flag Administration approval to keep arms and ammunition on board. Our vessel flies the Cook Islands flag and this approval was produced to the local authorities.”
“The main reason for this situation is that Nigeria doesn’t implement a number of IMO resolutions which contain the latest international maritime rules and regulations. It seems that Nigeria should follow the main rules of international maritime law and continue the process of improvements in the legal system to avoid a situation when 15 men are detained for 4 months without producing formal charges.”
A Moran Security spokesman says: “Tactically we are pleased that the crew members are now in good conditions at the embassy, but strategically the situation is not clear. The measures of restraint have been modified, but the charge remains [a serious one for which the prosecutors are demanding] life imprisonment. At the same time we consider the court’s decision today as positive signal and we hope that Nigerian side will resolve this situation within shortest period of time with restoration of the justice. The positive solution of this incident will be positively perceived by the international maritime community too.”