NEW DELHI, India—Police in a southern Indian port city on Friday arrested the crew of a US-owned ship on charges of illegally transporting weapons and ammunition in Indian waters.
Eight crew and 25 security guards aboard the MV Seaman Guard Ohio were arrested after they failed to produce documents allowing them to carry the weapons, a police official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The ship is owned by Virginia-based security company AdvanFort but is registered in Sierra Leone. It was detained October 12 and has been in the Tuticorin port in Tamil Nadu state.
The ship’s captain told investigators that the company provides armed escorts to merchant vessels travelling in pirate-infested waters in the Indian Ocean.
Police seized 35 automatic weapons and nearly 5,700 rounds of ammunition from the security guards on the ship, the police official said. The men were charged with illegal possession of weapons and ammunition and entering India’s territorial waters without permission, he said.
The ship had 10 crew members and 25 armed security guards from India, Britain, Estonia and Ukraine. Two of the crew members were not arrested and were allowed to stay on board the ship to carry out maintenance work.
The US Embassy in New Delhi said it had no comment on the matter. AdvanFort could not immediately be reached for comment, but in a company-issued statement, AdvanFort explained why the ship was in the port.
“The management of AdvanFort International Group wishes to thank and commend the Indian Coast Guard, port officials at Tuticorin, and the Tamil Nadu police for allowing our vessel, Seamen Guard Ohio, to enter the port both to take on fuel and to escape the effects of Typhoon Phailin.”
The company also stated that “the Ohio is an operator support vessel that provides an accommodations platform for AdvanFort’s counter-piracy guards between transits on client commercial vessels transiting the High Risk Area….As these men routinely provide armed counter-piracy protection, they also had aboard their uniforms, protective equipment, medical kits, rifles and ammunition— all of which is properly registered and licensed to AdvanFort.”
India is very sensitive about the presence of armed security guards on merchant ships after the shooting deaths of two fishermen by armed Italian marines last year. The marines were part of a military security team on a cargo ship when they fired at the fishermen, mistaking them for pirates. The two Italians are facing trial in India for the deaths.