Thirty-three crew members of a ship owned by a US firm were arrested by the Tamil Nadu police on Friday on charges of illegally carrying arms and ammunition and entering Indian waters without authorisation.
The police have seized 35 arms and about 5,680 rounds of ammunition from the vessel MV Seaman Guard Ohio, which has been impounded since October 12.
Thirty-three of the 35 members on board the vessel were taken to Muthiahpuram police station on Friday morning and questioned, after which police completed the legal formalities to effect their formal arrest. Police said two crew members were permitted to stay on board the vessel to carry out its maintenance till further arrangements are made and they would also be arrested.
A statement issued by the police headquarters in Chennai said a case for offences under Arms Act 1959, Essential Commodities Act 1955 and Motor Spirit and High Speed Diesel Prevention of Malpractices in Supply and Distribution Order 1990 has been registered against the crew.
The investigation has revealed that the vessel was found in the country’s territorial waters and was in possession of a huge quantity of arms and ammunition without valid authorisation, police said.
All the arrested crew members were produced before a court which sent them to 14 days’ judicial custody.
Meanwhile, India has justified the detention of the ship. Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh on Friday said in New Delhi that the action was taken as the vessel carried arms, ammunition and armed guards “without necessary authorisation”. She said the matter has been shared with the US government. “The vessel is owned by an American company but has the flag of Sierra Leone. It was stopped by the Coast Guard in consideration of issues like it was carrying arms, ammunition and armed guards without necessary authorisation,” Singh said.
In Washington, an official of US-based firm AdvanFort, which owns the ship, said that all the arms and ammunition on board were licensed and meant for anti-piracy mission.
“The weapons are completely legal. They are all registered. They were purchased legally and are used in safeguarding ships in the high risk area,” said William H Watson, president of AdvanFort.
“Our weapons are for one purpose only and that is for our arms guard to use in counter piracy operation,” he said. “We have the appropriate licences from where they (arms and ammunition) were purchased and the end user certificates for the countries where they were