Police in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu arrested on Friday a 35-member crew of an American ship detained last week for illegally entering Indian waters with a heavy load of arms and ammunition, media reports said.
The vessel, Seaman Guard Ohio, owned by AdvanFort International, Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based maritime security company, provides an accommodation platform for anti-piracy troops and had a number of privately-contracted armed security personnel on board, including British, Estonian, Ukrainian and Indian nationals, when it entered the Indian port of Tuticorin, the company said in a statement on Monday. The Tamil Nadu state government said all 35 crew members, which included the armed personnel, were presented before a court on Friday and have been remanded to custody.
“As these men routinely provide armed counter-piracy protection, they also had aboard their uniforms, protective equipment, medical kits, rifles and ammunition – all of which is properly registered and licensed to AdvanFort,” the company had said prior to the arrests. “As is routine in such matters, Indian authorities are auditing the vessel’s records during the port stay while supplies, provisions and fuel are being transferred to OHIO.”
According to the Press Trust of India, or PTI, which cited an official statement from police headquarters in Chennai, a case was registered against the crew for offences under the Arms Act 1959, Essential Commodities Act 1955 and Motor Spirit and High Speed Diesel Prevention of malpractices in supply and distribution order 1990.
AdvanFort said the ship had entered the port to refuel and to escape the effects of Typhoon Phailin, and had earlier thanked the Indian Coast Guard for “offering safe harbor.”
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India’s Coast Guard official Anand Kumar had said earlier that the ship was detained on Oct. 11 in the port on India's southeastern coast pending submission of legal documentation to enter Indian waters, Hindustan Times reported. Armed crew on board cargo ships is not unusual and is reportedly a standard measure against piracy. But, the ship was detained because it broke Indian laws and did not have sufficient documentation required for traveling with arms, which included 31 assault rifles and 5,000 rounds of ammunition, on board.
AdvanFort President William Watson told PTI that it is ironic that “many of the ships that my guards protect are Indian” and “while they are in port, they can’t be doing their job.”
Watson also dismissed allegations that the ship did not have papers needed to carry weapons on board, adding that he believed that the primary investigation against the ship had to do with the alleged purchase of gasoline in the black market for the ship.