33 personnel of US ship arrested, sent to judicial custody

Chennai, Oct 18 (IANS) The Tamil Nadu Police Friday arrested 33 crew members and security personnel of the American ship Seaman Guard Ohio sailing under the Sierra Leone flag, officials said. A court later sent all of them to 14 days judicial custody.

Police also seized 35 weapons and 5,680 rounds of ammunition from the vessel, which was detained earlier at Tuticorin port.

The judge ordered police to produce the arrested personnel in the court Oct 31.

In a statement, the police said: "Investigation by the Q Branch CID (crime investigation department) revealed that the vessel was found in the territorial waters of our country and was in possession of huge quantity of arms and ammunition without valid authorisation or documents."

"The ship has drawn illegally 1,500 litres of diesel from private sources in our land without following the laid down procedure," it added.

According to police, two crew members have been left on the vessel for its upkeep and maintenance till AdvanFort, the company which owns the ship, makes alternate arrangements.

The arrested personnel were shifted to Muthavapuram police station in Tuticorin district, around 600 km from here for further interrogation. Their passports have been seized.

Police have registered a case against the crew and the guards on the complaint of an assistant commandant of the Indian Coast Guard 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.

Flying West African country Sierra Leone's flag, Seaman Guard Ohio was in Indian waters Friday night, around 15 nautical miles from Tuticorin port.

The Coast Guard escorted the ship with 35 people (10 crew and 25 security guards) to Tuticorin port.

Officials from different security departments questioned the ship's personnel as automatic rifles, bullets and other arms were found on board the vessel.

According to a marine police official, the security guards on the ship maintained that the arms were for providing security to ships and they were waiting for further orders.

A marine police official told IANS earlier that the crew members are giving contradictory statements. Also, the papers presented by them do not support their oral version.

According to the Coast Guard, eight of the crew members are Indians and two Ukrainians.

Of the 25 security guards who have been arrested, six are British, 14 Estonians, one Ukrainian and four Indians.

According to a website that tracks marine traffic, the last known port of call for Seaman Guard Ohio was Sharjah.

AdvanFort specialises in providing maritime security against pirates.

The company claimed the ship entered the Indian waters to escape the fury of Cyclone Phailin.

Curiously, the cyclone-hit Odisha and Andhra Pradesh are far off from Tuticorin where the ship was detected. It is also not known what the ship was doing in the Bay of Bengal instead of the Indian Ocean.

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