Nigerian authorities arrest 15 Russian sailors on charges of smuggling

Only wives can save Russian sailors

Another hearing of a case involving 15 Russian sailors went under way in Nigeria. The Russian sailors are a crew of oil tanker African Pride. They were arrested by the Nigerian authorities on charges of smuggling. The judges have failed to reach a verdict in the case for more than a year. The relatives of the accused are going to Nigeria to give them support. The lawyers hinted to the sailors' mothers and wives that they would have to pay for the “right” ruling.

Lyudmila Kravtsova, mother of a third mate, told Novye Izvestia that Russian sailors were being held in solitary confinement cells, three persons shackled to one another were sharing a cell. The prisoners did not have any mats to sleep on until recently. All of them had malaria and other tropical diseases for several times. The are given one meal a day. The meal is invariably some rice and fish scales. The government of Nigeria does not pay for meals. The ship owner, a Greek company, does. There was a time when the prisoners did not get any food for three days because the Greek had not transfer the money on time.

Four women from Novorossiysk, a Russian seaport on the Black Sea, are getting ready to make a trip to Nigeria. They got their foreign passports ready, they got vaccinated, their visas are in the works. But the route of their travel to Lagos has not yet been fixed. They will probably have to change fights along the way. The sailors' trade union and city hall of Novorossiysk allocated funds to pay for tickets, board and lodging. The ship owner also shared in. The prisoners are asking their loved ones to bring them brown bread, sausage, and chocolate. And some Russian newspapers.

“We are very much concerned because this longstanding trial will be adjourned till September if they don't give a verdict on a hearing scheduled for May 30th,” says Mrs. Kravtsova. She says lawyers in Nigeria normally take very long vacations, their summer vacations last for 90 days. Mrs. Kravtsova says the relatives got a hint from the lawyers that the sailors might be released if the relatives cut “a deal” with the court. “This is reportedly the only way out of the deadlock because nothing can be done in Nigeria unless you pay off to the authorities,” says Mrs. Kravtsova.

The Nigerian Coast Guard detained the African Pride in October 2003. The ship was at sea 18 miles off the port of Lagos carrying 11,000 tons of crude oil. First the coast guards took the ship's master and chief mate for questioning. Then the tanker was towed back to  port. The ship's crew is composed mostly of Russian nationals. The crewmembers were eventually charged with smuggling and taken to a maximum security prison.

The Greek ship owner actually left the crewmembers to the mercy of fate.

Only the sailors' wives and mothers are really worried about the future of the accused. The women launched a hunger strike in March this year. Their open letter to the Russian President Putin was published by a Russian newspaper. But so far the authorities seem to have turned a blind eye to the plight of the Russian sailors locked up in Nigeria. The women went to Moscow following the hunger strike.

They visited a number of places in Moscow including the President's administration public reception office, human rights commission, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They have no doubts that their Moscow trip was just a waste of time. Even the money collected by the sailors' trade union is still sitting in the Russian Embassy in Nigeria. Judging by the telephone calls from the sailors, they are not getting any additional help from anybody. A Russian doctor is only allowed to conduct examination of the prisoners, he is not allowed to give  them medical assistance.

The women from Novorossiysk managed to arrange a meeting with a representative of the Nigerian Embassy in Moscow. The Nigerian diplomat kept the women waiting for a long time. When he finally met with them, he said that more than 200 Nigerians were doing time in Russian correctional facilities. Most of them were sent to jail for selling illicit drugs. The Nigerian diplomat suggested that the sailors' wives and mothers pay a visit to Nigerian convicts. He said the women had better bring some presents to them. From his point of view, it was highly recommended that the central Russian media cover appropriately their honorable deed. He told the women to refrain from talking to the Russian newspapers about deprivations of the Russian prisoners in Nigeria.   

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Author`s name Olga Savka