A total of 10 suspected pirates have all pleaded not guilty to a three-count charge bordering on piracy, in what appears an epic trial, especially being the first time the country will prosecute such suspected criminals.

Recall that President Muhammadu Buhari had last year signed theSuppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences SPOMO Bill 2019 into law, which paves way for the prosecution of the pirate suspects.

The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency NIMASA, Monday arraigned the 10 suspected pirates at Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, the nation’s economic hub for allegedly hijacking a Chinese fishing vessel.

The vessel, FV Hai Lu Feng II, is said to belong to the Haina Fishing Company.

The government charged the suspects with three counts on piracy.

Prosecutor Magaji Labaran alleged that the defendants committed the offence in May, on the International waters in Abidjan, Cote D’lvoire, while armed with dangerous weapons.

They were also alleged to have committed an illegal act of violence against the crew on board FV Hai Lu Feng II, by putting them in fear in order to take control of the vessel.

He said the offence contravened the provisions of sections 3, 10 and 12 of the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences Act 2019.

Each of the defendants however pleaded not guilty.

Justice Ayokunle Faji, fixed July 15, for hearing in the bail applications as well as for trial.

The court ordered that the defendants be remanded in custody of the Nigerian Navy, pending the decision on their bail application.

The ship’s crew, including Chinese, Ghanaians, and Ivorians, was attacked by pirates off the coast of Cote d’lvoire on May 15. They were rescued unhurt by the Nigerian military.

A number of ships have been attacked by pirates within the Gulf of Guinea in recent years. The criminal groups have shifted from stealing cargo to holding crew members for ransom.