World News

India Arrests Crew of US-Owned Anti-Piracy Ship

Indian police have arrested at least 33 crew members of a detained U.S.-owned anti-piracy ship for carrying weapons in Indian waters without proper permits.

The crew was arrested Friday in the southern port of Tuticorin.

Indian Foreign Secretary Sujata Singh said the crew was arrested after failing to produce documents allowing them to carry the weapons.

"The vessel was stopped by our coast guard in consideration of issues relating to the presence of arms, ammunition, and armed guards on board without the necessary authorization. The crew and guards are currently cooperating with the police investigations that are ongoing in Tamil Nadu (state). Cases have been filed with regards to the Arms Act and the Essential Commodities Act Basic information on this case has been shared in routine course with U.S. Embassy representatives."

The Sierra Leone-flagged ship, Seaman Guard Ohio, was escorted to Tuticorin last week with a crew of British, Estonian, Indian and Ukrainian nationals. It belongs to AdvanFort, a U.S.-based maritime security firm.

AdvanFort President William Watson told VOA the arms and ammunition on board were licensed and meant for anti-piracy missions in the eastern Indian Ocean. He said as soon as the ship was stopped, its captain produced documents showing the weapons were properly licensed.

Watson also said the Seaman Guard Ohio was operating outside Indian territorial waters when it was detained. He said, however, it moved closer than normal to India's shore because of the treacherous waters caused by Cyclone Phailin.

"It was outside the 12-mile limit. Now in some cases India seeks to project its authority throughout its exclusive economic zone which of course goes out much further than the 12-mile limit. I'm not a maritime or admiralty attorney, but my understanding is that seizing a vessel outside the 12-mile limit is inappropriate."

An Indian defense and strategic affairs analyst, Bharat Verma, said the coast guard would not have detained the ship if it were outside Indian waters.

"If the ship is within our waters of 12 nautical miles and without permission, then to arrest the ship's crew and capture the ship is absolutely legitimate. Now the coast guard which escorted the ship to the shore, knows this law. So it appears that the ship was inside the waters."

Watson said at the time it was stopped, the Seaman Guard Ohio was being refueled by another vessel in international waters. He called that fuel purchase "lawful and legal."

"The Indian coast guard came out and asked us to come in to port because apparently they were conducting an investigation of fuel transfer issues, and when we went into port of course because we had the weapons on board they sought to audit those weapons. Our understanding from the authority team that came on board was that they found all of our papers to be in order."

In a statement Friday, AdvanFort played down the ship's seizure. The company instead thanked Indian authorities for allowing the Seaman Guard Ohio to refuel and escape Phailin, India's strongest cyclone in 14 years.

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