Zee Media Bureau/Ajith Vijay Kumar
Chennai/Tuticorin: All 35 crew members of US ship MV seaman Guard Ohio were arrested today and produced before a magistrate court and remanded in custody. Clearly, the standoff over the detention of the arms-laden ship in Tuticorin port may explode into a diplomatic row even as the United Kingdom has sought consular access to its six nationals.
The 35-member crew was arrested in an early morning operation and taken to the Muthaihpuram police station near the Tuticorin dockyard, where they were questioned by Tamil Nadu Police sleuths.
A team of Government Hospital doctors undertook a medical check up of the crew members before they were arrested.
Hiwever, the Tamil Nadu special investigation "Q" branch, which has now been tasked with the probe, refused to share details of the on-going investigation.
MV Seaman Guard Ohio, a ship owned by US company AdvanFort, was detained by Indian Coast Guard off the Tuticorin port in Tamil Nadu. The ship, which flew a Seirre Leone flag, was on Indian waters last Friday night and detained by Indian Coast Guard early Saturday at Tuticorin port, located around 600 km from the state capital, Chennai.
The arrests came after the Tamil Nadu Q branch conducted a thorough probe into all aspects concerning the case. The Tamil Nadu Marine Police had filed an FIR against the 35 member crew- including 25 guards – for illegally carrying arms and ammunition.
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).
As per reports, MV Seaman Guard Ohio had 31 assault rifles and around 5,000 rounds of ammunition on board, which were seized by the Coast Guard. The weapons are currently in the custody of the CISF.
They were also booked under the Essential Commodities Act s for buying 1,500 litres of diesel from a fishing boat illegally, reports said.
AdvanFort downplayed the detention
US company AdvanFort, which specialises in maritime security against pirates has tried to downplay the detection of its ship.
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.”
However, with the Indian authorities now moving ahead with the arrest of the crew, clearly, AdvanFort has more to answer.