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Arms-laden US ship in Tuticorin: Why this silence?

By Ajith Vijay Kumar | Last Updated: Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - 13:14

Zee Media Bureau/Ajith Vijay Kumar

Chennai/Tuticorin: The Deputy National Security Adviser Nehchal Sandhu may have said that the American ship, detained by Coast Guard off Tamil Nadu coast for carrying arms, was not involved in gunrunning, a number of pertinent questions remain unanswered.

And the mystery surrounding MV Seaman Guard Ohio gets accentuated in view of the complete silence being exercised by the Tamil Nadu government and other agencies involved in the probe.

Also, given reports that US Embassy in Delhi has sought details on Ohio’s detention from the Ministry of External Affairs, it is being alleged that the US is trying to put pressure on the Indian government to ensure the ship’s early release.

However, with the state government transferring the case to Tamil Nadu Q Branch for an extensive probe, Ohio’s detention may turn out into an along drawn out diplomatic tussle between New Delhi and Washington.

The Tamil Nadu Marine Police has an FIR registered against the 35-member team onboard the ship for illegally carrying arms and ammunition. Security forces had seized 31 assault rifles and over 5,000 rounds of ammunition from the ship, which was detained 47 miles from Tuticorin.

They have also been booked under the Essential Commodities Act for buying around 1,500 litres of diesel without proper papers.

Considering the implications of the case on national security, officials from different security agencies have already 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).

MV Seaman Guard Ohio, a ship owned by US company AdvanFort, which flew a Seirre Leone flag, was on Indian waters Friday night. It was detained by Indian Coast Guard early Saturday and escorted to the Tuticorin port, located around 600 km from the state capital, Chennai.

US company AdvanFort specialises in maritime security against pirates; Sierra Leone is a West African country.

William Watson, president of AdvanFort, said, “I want to personally thank the Indian government for offering a safe harbour during this typhoon to the crew of our good vessel Ohio.”

Watson said that the ship was an Operator Support Vessel that provided an “accommodations platform for AdvanFort’s counter-piracy guards between transits on client commercial vessels transiting the High Risk Area.”

Watson explained that the routine duties of PCASP included providing armed counter-piracy protection and to this end they also had aboard “their uniforms, protective equipment, medical kits, rifles and ammunition – all of which is properly registered and licensed to AdvanFort.”

Unanswered questions:

1. Tuticorin is nowhere close to Cyclone Phailin’s area of impact then why is AdvanFort using it as an alibi to justify its presence in the waters off Tamil Nadu coast?

2. MV Seaman Guard Ohio had berthed in Kochi port in August. They had all the documents then, what changed after that, raising suspicion of Indian authorities?

3. Why did the crew buy diesel without proper papers?

4. And, why is very little information being shared with the media?

First Published: Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - 09:53

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