Two remaining US ship crew arrested, Britain wants consular access

Chennai, Oct 19 (IANS) The two people left on the American ship Seaman Guard Ohio, detained here after found carrying arms, for the vessel's upkeep and maintenance have also been arrested, police said.

The British Deputy High Commission has approached the police for consular access to their six nationals who were among the 33 people arrested Friday, a senior police officier, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IANS.

Three locals have also been taken into custody for illegally supplying diesel to the ship, the officer said.

"The two men who were left behind to take care of the ship have been arrested and remanded to custody. Yesterday (Friday) 33 crew members and security personnel were arrested and sent to judicial custody," the officer said.

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

The judge, sending the arrested crewmen to 14 days judicial custody, ordered police to produce the arrested personnel in the court Oct 31.

Investigation by the Q Branch CID (crime investigation department) revealed that the vessel was found in Indian territorial waters and had a huge quantity of arms and ammunition on board without valid authorisation or documents.

The ship had illegally drawn 1,500 litres of diesel from private sources without following tprocedure, police said Friday.

Asked whether the crew and the security personnel would be shifted here, the senior police officer said that it is up to the court and the prison to decide on that matter.

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.

The ship's owner AdvanFort, which specialises in providing maritime security against pirates, claimed the ship entered the Indian waters to escape the fury of Cyclone Phailin.

However, 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.

A police official told IANS the ship was loitering around India for the past one month for unknown reasons.

The police official also wondered as to the reason for buying 1,500 litres of diesel illegally instead of fueling the ship at Sharjah or through legal channels in any of the Indian ports.

He however discounted the possibility of the ship being used for arms dropping.

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