By Moutaz Ali.
Tripoli, 26 April 2017:
Most of the Russian sailors arrested aboard their cargo ship off Zawia last month have been released according to Russia’s deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov.
Bogdanov, who was in Tripoli on Tuesday for a series of meetings which included talks with Presidency Council (PC) head Faiez Serraj, said that five of the seven crew members of the Russian cargo vessel MV Merle had been set free.
The ship which was boarded by the Libyan coastguard on 5 March, is still under arrest in Tripoli harbour. It was suspected of being used to smuggle scrap metal. It is not known which two crew members are still being held but there are reports that they are the captain and the first officer.
The release of the five Russian sailors comes after appeals to a Misratan-led delegation in Moscow last week, both from Bogdanov and from the Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov.
Nobody in Libya has given any reason for letting five of the Russian sailors go and continuing to hold two more. Two days before the Merle was seized, six sailors, a Russian, four Ukrainians and a Greek from the Russian tanker Temeteron were released but the two other Russians and a Ukrainian, thought to be the captain and his officers, were still detained, reportedly to stand trial for fuel smuggling. No such trial is known to have taken place and the three crew members of the Temeteron are thought to be still held in Tripoli.
Bogdanov and the PC foreign minister Mohamed Siala were supposed to hold a press conference in Tripoli on Tuesday night. However, first it was delayed for three hours and then cancelled without explanation.