The Federal Government on Thursday arraigned six Nigerians and three foreign nationals at the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, over their alleged involvement in the hijack of Equatorial Guinean Vessel, MV Elobey VI.
The defendants are: Binaebi Johnson, Daniel Lemmer, Ghane Gordon, Hassan Hakeem, Gregory Smith, Ofem Uket, John Mark, Chidi Amadi and Eze Amadi.
They were arraigned by the federal government on a seven-count charge of conspiracy, kidnapping, terrorism and illegal possession of firearms and ammunition before Justice Muhammed Sani.
The suspects and employees of Pilgrim Africa Limited were arrested by the Nigerian Navy in Port Harcourt over allegations that they conspired and paid $200,000 to a gang of pirates who abducted three sailors.
They were accused of facilitating to pay the ransom to the pirates for the release of two Moroccan nationals, Abaamrane Hamid and Chalabi Abdelaziz, and an Equatorial Guinean, Santos Ndong.
The government also alleged that the defendants conveyed the hostages to Calabar, Cross River, for onward hand over to the Equatorial Guinean Consul after payment was confirmed by the pirates.
The nine defendants, however, pleaded not guilty to the charges brought against them.
The prosecuting counsel, Magaji Laraban, said the offences violated Sections 5, 8, 11, 17 (1) and 18 of Terrorism Prevention (Amendment) Act, 2013 and Section 27 of Firearms Act, 2004.
Laraban urged the court to commence the trial and remand the suspects in a correctional facility pending the determination of the matter or the bail application filed by the lawyers.
He said: “Kidnapping and terrorism-related offences are an organised crime carried out by syndicates.
“Some people take part in the piracy and kidnap, others negotiate for the ransom while another engages in the retrieval and recovery of victims in exchange for benefits.”
On her part, the defence counsel, Abimbola Akeredolu (SAN), urged the court to grant bail to the defendants on liberal terms.
She promised the court that the defendants would be available in court till the conclusion of the matter.
The counsel said: “My clients have been kept in solitary confinement since May. This is sad because there is really no charge here.
“The people who paid the ransom contracted my clients to take the victims of kidnapping from where they were released to their embassy.
” After doing that, my clients were arrested.”
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