A Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt on Thursday remanded nine persons in Port Harcourt Correctional Centre over alleged involvement in the hijack of an Equatorial Guinean Vessel, MV Elobey VI.
The Judge, Mohammed Sani ordered the Port Harcourt Correctional Centre to ensure all COVID-19 protocols were observed before admitting the defendants.
Sani promised speedy hearing of the matter and adjourned the case until Aug. 10, for ruling on bail application and commencement of trial.
The defendants are Binaebi Johnson, Daniel Lemmer, Ghane Gordon, Hassan Hakeem, Gregory Smith, Ofem Uket, John Mark, Chidi Amadi, and Eze Amadi.
The defendants were alleged to have conspired to hijack MV Elobey VI in the early hours of March 21, about 22 nautical miles off Port Gentil, Gabon.
They were alleged to have forced the crew to sail to Nigerian waters, but fled when MV Elobey VI was approached by Nigerian Naval warship.
The three abducted sailors were later released after a ransom of 200,000 dollars was allegedly collected by the defendants.
The three sailors are two Moroccan nationals, Abaamrane Hamid and Chalabi Abdelaziz and an Equatorial Guinean, Santos Ndong.
The defendants were also said to have conveyed the hostages to Calabar, Cross River for onward handover to the Equatorial Guinean Consul after the ransom had been confirmed by the pirates.
The defendants are being tried for conspiracy, kidnapping, terrorism and illegal possession of firearms and ammunition.
The defendants, however, pleaded not guilty to all charges brought against them.
The prosecution said the offences violated Sections 5, 8, 11, 17 (1) and 18 of the Terrorism Prevention (Amendment) Act, 2013 and Section 27 of Firearms Act, 2004.
Magaji Laraban, the prosecuting counsel for the Federal Government, told the court that he was ready to commence with the trial or the defendants be remanded in a correctional centre pending when the trial would begin.
On her part, the defence lawyer, Abimbola Akeredolu (SAN), prayed the court to grant her clients bail in most liberal terms.
Akeredolu promised the court that the applicants would be available in court till determination of the case.
“My clients have been kept in solitary confinement since May this year.
“This is sad because the defendants have committed no offence.
“The people who paid the ransom contracted my clients to take the victims of the kidnapping from where they were released to their embassy. After doing that, my clients were arrested,” she said.(NAN)