Zee Media Bureau/Ajith Vijay Kumar
Tirunelveli/Chennai: Officials from the US consulate in Chennai visited the central prison at Palayamkottai where 35 crew members of MV Seaman Guard Ohio, owned by US firm AdvanFort, have been lodged.
The three-member team from the consulate enquired about the health and other details of the crew, reports said.
A spokesperson from the US Consulate General refused to comment on the visit. "We do not have any comment at this time, but are monitoring the situation," she was quoted as saying by a news agency.
Importantly there was no US citizen among the 35 people who were onboard the vessel when it was apprehended allegedly for illegally carrying weapons while they were in Indian waters. Of the 35, 10 are crew members (eight are Indian and two Ukrainian), the rest are security guards (six are British, 14 Estonian, one Ukrainian and four Indian).
The controversy surrounding the arrest of the crew of detained US ship MV Seaman Guard Ohio took another turn on Monday with the vessel’s chief engineer reportedly trying to commit suicide in prison.
As per reports, chief engineer Siderenko Valeriy, a Ukrainian, allegedly attempted to commit suicide by hanging himself in prison. This is his second attempt to end life in as many days. Valeriy was arrested yesterday; he and the Captain, Dudnik Valentyn (also from Ukraine), were retained in the ship on maintenance while 33 other crew members and guards were arrested on Friday.
High drama had preceded Valeriy’s arrest as he had tried to commit suicide by hanging himself from the flag mast but alert port security personnel foiled it and rushed him to the port hospital. He was declared fit after multiple rounds of medical checkups. He was later shifted to the Palayamkottai prison.
After the second suicide attempt, the chief engineer has been isolated and kept under observation. Reports also said that the US crew members are being counselled.
Washington-based AdvanFort International owns the ship - Seaman Guard Ohio - which has been detained by authorities off the coast of Tamil Nadu for carrying heavy weapons and ammunition on board without clearance.
The ship flying the Sierra Leone flag was intercepted by Coast Guard in Indian waters 15 nautical miles off Tuticorin coast on October 12.
An FIR was registered against the 35 crew under the Arms Act for carrying arms without authorisation and Essential Commodities Act for buying 1,500 litres of diesel illegally with the help of a local shipping agent.
AdvanFort International termed the arrest of its crew as "inappropriate" and said it is working diplomatically and through the judicial system to prove the innocence of 35 sailors to get them released.
"Our vessel Seaman Guard OHIO has been detained in Tuticorin and 35 of our crew and guards are being held. We believe the entire issue is inappropriate, because we were asked to come into Indian territorial waters by the Indian Coast Guard, while we were outside the Indian territorial waters where we were operating, William H Watson, president of AdvanFort, told a news agency.
AdvanFort would represent its case before the court today. The company would seek bail for all the arrested men even as it has taken up the matter with the governments of the US, Britain, Estonia and Ukraine.
Law will take its own course: Vasan
Shipping Minister GK Vasan said the truth behind the detention of the US ship and the arrest of its 35 crew members would come out after an enquiry into the matter.
"All those arrested from the ship have been lodged at a prison in Palayamkottai. The truth will come out after a full enquiry. The law will take its own course," he said.