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Concern mounts for guards held without charge in Nigeria

Concern mounts for guards held without charge in Nigeria
Two British nationals continue to be held by Nigerian authorities without charge since 21 March, despite local 48 hour charge or release laws.

Today marks a fortnight since the men, unarmed contractors for maritime security firm Port2Port, were arrested by the Joint Task Force (JTF) in Nigeria.

Speaking to Seatrade Global yesterday, Port2Port managing director Andrew Varney expressed his concerns that the incarceration may begin to take its toll on the men's mental health, especially if tales of their possible imminent release turn out to be unfounded.

The pair were held in shackles for seven days and moved around Nigeria by the JTF without being told why they were being held.

If it weren't for Port2Port's own local intelligence, the first the company would have known of the situation would have been almost a week later when the men were paraded in front of television cameras alongside unknown Nigerians, supposedly as part of a gang involved in illegal bunkering.

The pair have since been handed over to the Nigerian State Security Service (SSS), at which point the treatment of the men improved.

"I do have to make it very clear that at no point during that seven day period [with the JTF] were any charges brought. For the first six days we got no access of any kind and it took that long for the high commission to be formally informed that two UK nationals were being held without charge," Port2Port managing director Andrew Varney told Seatrade Global.

"There's been a significant transition from the point at which they were handed over by the JTF. Once it was handed to the state security service (SSS) we were hopeful that due process would take place. At that point access was granted, we were able to get legal and consular access. We surmised that we were waiting for the JTF to provide evidence to the SSS before the SSS could make a decision. Regrettably no evidence has been forthcoming and still isn't to this day. There is no evidence against our people, because frankly they have done nothing wrong."

"Clearly, despite being beholden to 48 hour release or charge under Nigerian law, the weekend transpired and we were able to make a full submission to court and we were given an initial hearing date of the ninth of April. The problem I have here is that while this is all going on, the illegal detention still stands."

Varney stated that the painful irony of the situation was that the men were only in Warri because the master of the vessel they were due to protect had redirected the ship after it was attacked by pirates the previous day.

"If there was any criminality involved, if there was any illegal bunkering taking place at that particular time, why was the vessel allowed to sail the following day? The vessel was allowed to sail and the police officers were allowed to be released, the only guys that were held were ours. Purely, in my opinion, because they happened to be in the same hotel on the same night."

"The SSS have a very difficult job and the problem of illegal bunkering is endemic, it is out of control. I respect their fundamental right to due process and to arrest and prosecute criminals and to investigate the matter fully. Where I would like further explanation is how they feel they are able still to contravene Nigerian law by holding our men without charge."