Tuticorin (TN), Oct 18 (PTI): Police have finally arrested 33 crew of the Seaman Guard Ohio, an arms-laden vessel that its US owner says is a resting platform for guards employed by many shipping lines including Indian ones to protect their vessels against pirates.
The ship says it was refuelling off the coast, when the Coast Guard asked it to enter Indian territorial waters. It was then seized on October 12. The first information report was filed on October 14.
The police say they have seized 35 weapons and about 5,680 rounds of ammunition, and filed charges of illegally carrying arms and ammunition, and of straying into Indian territorial waters without authorisation.
The police took 33 of the 35 on board the vessel to Muthiahpuram Police Station on Friday morning and questioned, after which the legal formalities to effect the formal arrest. Two were left on the vessel and would be arrested later.
Police headquarters in Chennai said a case 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 has been registered against the crew.
The investigation by the “Q” Branch police of the state's specialised wing in the last two days has revealed that the vessel was found in the country's territorial waters and was in possession of a huge quantity of arms and ammunition without valid documents.
The crew face allegations of procuring 1,500 litres of diesel illegally.
Police said the case was registered in Tharuvaikulam Marine Police station on October 13 on the complaint by Assistant Commandant, Indian Coast Guard, Tuticorin.
Meanwhile, AdvanFort, the company that owns the ship, told PTI in Washington that all arms and ammunition on board are licensed and were meant for anti-piracy mission.
“The weapons on board the vessel are completely legal. They are all registered. They were purchased legally and are used for our own use in safeguarding ships in the high risk area,” William H Watson, president of Washington DC-based AdvanFort, told PTI.
Washington-based AdvanFort International is the firm that owns the Seaman Guard Ohio.
The ship, he said, provides an accommodation platform for its counter-piracy guards between duties on client commercial vessels transiting the high-risk area.
“In fact, to me the irony here is that many of the ships there that my guards protect are Indian. While they are in port, they can't be doing their job,” Watson said.
“We have the appropriate permits and licenses from where they (arms and ammunition) were purchased and the end user certificates for the countries where they were embarking our vessels,” he said.
“We keep a very comprehensive log of all the weapons and munitions and board,” he added.
Watson said his understanding is that the primary investigation against the ship is the alleged purchase of illegal gasoline for the ship.
“That is the primary investigation. Of course the Indian Government is very strict on firearms. Since our vessels have firearms, they are looking at all of our records and we welcome that audit. We have nothing to hide,” Watson said.
Watson said the ship never had any intention to enter the Indian water territory and was out of the 12 miles range.
Watson said the ship never had any intention to enter the Indian water territory and was out of the 12 miles range. The same ship had entered Tuticorin port in Tamil Nadu several times in the past, but in all those cases did not carry any arms and ammunition.
“But this time, because of the variety of reasons including the typhoon we had to actually come in with the guards and weapons abroad. We actually never intended to go to the port. We were doing fuelling operation outside the Indian waters and the Coast Guard came out to us and asked us to come in. So we never intended to enter Indian waters,” Watson said.
Responding to a question, Watson said he would not use the word “forced” for the Coast Guard.
“They invited us to come with them. And when the Coast Guard invites you to come with them, you come with them,” he said, adding that once the vessel arrived at the port they started the investigating about the weapons on board.