Zee Media Bureau/Ajith Vijay Kumar
Chennai/Tuticorin: More than 48 hours have passed since MV Seaman Guard Ohio, a ship owned by US company AdvanFort, was detained by Indian Coast Guard off the Tuticorin port in Tamil Nadu, but there are still no clear answers on how the ship entered Indian waters carrying arms and ammunition without any permits. However, India today reportedly said that the ship may not be involved in gun-running.
Seaman Guard Ohio, which flew a Seirre Leone flag, was on Indian waters Friday night and detained by Indian Coast Guard early Saturday at Tuticorin port, located around 600 km from the state capital, Chennai.
Acting on a tip off that a suspicious merchant vessel MV Seaman Guard was in Indian waters carrying arms and ammunition, a Coast Guard vessel intercepted the foreign vessel and escorted it to Tuticorin port.
US company AdvanFort specialises in maritime security against pirates; Sierra Leone is a West African country.
Considering the implications of the case on national security, officials from different security agencies have questioned the 35-member team of the detained ship.
Of the 35 people on board, 10 were crew members (eight are Indian and two Ukrainian), the rest were security guards (six are British, 14 Estonian, one Ukrainian and four Indian).
Reports claimed that the ship`s captain has told investigators that AdvanFort provides armed escorts to merchant vessels travelling in pirate-infested waters in the Indian Ocean and has all the necessary clearances.
However, Indian officials remain unconvinced. A Tamil Nadu marine police official was quoted by a news agency as saying: "Officials from various departments involved in security are questioning the members of the Seaman Guard ship. A clear picture has not yet emerged. The ship officials have been giving contradictory versions. The papers presented by them do not support their oral statements."
A first information report (FIR) was lodged against the ship members, but charges will be known only once interrogation is completed, reports added.
Indian security agencies are looking at whether the ship was involved in arms trafficking amid suggestions that the ship may be the mother ship supplying arms to a security agency that is involved in anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden.
The ship also bought around 1,500 litres of diesel without proper papers. A case was registered for that as well.
Meanwhile, Deputy National Security Adviser Nehchal Sandhu said today that according to him the American ship was not involved in gun-running, as per reports. He reportedly said on the sidelines of a function that the captain of the ship did not declare the arms to customs and the process of law would take it own course. However, he added that the ship may be owned by a private maritime security company.