The Russian government Wednesday called for the immediate release of the 15 sailors arrested by the Nigerian Navy for allegedly smuggling arms into the country.
Nigerian authorities intercepted a ship and arrested its Russian crew on October 23 last year after they found 14 AK-47 riffles guns and 8,500 rounds of ammunition on board.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said the sailors were facing a court case initiated "under false pretexts" and that Nigeria broke a promise given to Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, that the men would return to Russia before the New Year.
"We expect that this time around, the Nigerian partners will stick to their word and release the Russian sailors in the nearest time without additional conditions and further delays," Reuters quoted the ministry as saying in a statement Wednesday.
The sailors, who had been kept in navy custody since their arrest in October, were handed over to the police last Monday.
"On Monday, we handed over the crew to the police as we have completed preliminary investigations," spokesman for the Western Naval Command, Lieutenant Commander Jerry Omodara said on telephone, adding that "The ship and the weapons are still in our custody."
The Moran Security Group, the Russian company that owns the confiscated vessel, called the accusations "groundless" and urged Nigeria to release the sailors.