Crew of detained US ship arrested

UK seeks consular access to 6 nationals
Last Updated 18 October 2013, 20:45 IST

In an early morning operation, the “Q” branch of the Tamil Nadu Police on Friday arrested crew members of detained US vessel MV Seaman Guard and seized arms and ammunition.

The crew members include eight Indian and two Ukranian nationals, along with 25 security guards — one Ukranian, four Indian, six British and 14 Estonian.

“The Q branch has seized 35 weapons and a total of 5,680 rounds of ammunition from the vessel. The CID officials have arrested eight crew and 25 guards this (Friday) morning,” a senior police officer told Deccan Herald.

However, in order to maintain the ship, two crew members were left in the vessel till the company, US-based AdvanFort, makes alternate arrangements, he said.

The arrested members were taken to Muthayapuram police station in Tuticorin district.
Citing reasons behind the arrest, the officer said: “Though the FIR was booked six days ago, they have not been able to produce any valid document, especially about their ship’s past record. Neither the crew nor the company that owns the ship responded properly to our probe. Therefore, we want to put more pressure on the company by arresting them.”

When asked about the ship, which was also sighted off Kochi on August 28, the official said: “We are collecting all the details, including whether the ship had arms and ammunition at that point of time. We are in touch with the Coast Guard, Fisheries Department and the Kerala Police.”

The police officer also said that during interrogation, the crew members repeatedly said that they have permission to hold weapons without showing any valid documents.

The ship was detained by the Coast Guard on Saturday after it strayed into Indian territorial waters off Tuticorin coast. Initial investigation revealed that the vessel was found in the territorial water of India and was in possession of arms and ammunition, without valid documents.

Also, the vessel had purchased about 1,500 litres of diesel through private agents from the country without following proper procedure. The state police have formed a special team to nab those who allegedly procured and supplied diesel illegally.

The crew has been booked under the Indian Arms Act, Passport Act and Essential Commodities Act.

William H Watson, president of AdvanFort, said: “The weapons on board are completely legal. They are all registered. They are used for safeguarding ships in high-risk areas. Our weapons are for one purpose only — to be used in counter-piracy operation.”

He said a team from the company would reach India in a day or two to help in the investigations. The ship, he said, is an operator support vessel that accommodates its counter-piracy guards between transits on client commercial vessels transiting high-risk seas. He said the US State Department is monitoring the situation. “But they have not got involved directly,” he added.

Meanwhile, Britain, whose six nationals are among the arrested, sought consular access.

(Published 18 October 2013, 20:43 IST)

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