Crew of US ship get bail

Chennai, Dec 26: A court in Tamil Nadu’s Tuticorin city Thursday granted bail to all 35 crew members arrested from US ship Seaman Guard Ohio after rifles and bullets were found onboard the vessel, an advocate said.

“Police had to file a chargesheet within 60 days of their arrest. But they did not do that and hence the court granted bail to the ship’s crew,” Joseph Jawahar, advocate for the crew, told IANS over phone from Tuticoin.

The ship is owned by American company AdvanFort.

Sailing under West African country Sierra Leone’s flag, the Seaman Guard Ohio was in Indian waters on the night of Oct 11, 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 Oct 12.

Officials from various security departments questioned the ship’s personnel after automatic rifles, bullets and other arms were found onboard the vessel.

A marine police official said security guards on the ship maintained that the arms were for providing security to the ship.

The official told IANS earlier that the crew members were giving contradictory statements. Also, the papers presented by them did not support their verbal statements.

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

On Oct 18, Tamil Nadu Police formally arrested 33 crew members and security personnel, and a court sent all of them to 14 days’ judicial custody.

Police also seized 35 weapons and 5,680 rounds of ammunition from the vessel.

Two crew members were left on the vessel for its upkeep and maintenance till the shipping company made alternate arrangements.

However, they too were arrested and sent to judicial custody Oct 19.

Of the 25 security guards who were 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 the Seaman Guard Ohio was Sharjah.

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

However, cyclone-hit states Odisha and Andhra Pradesh are far off from Tuticorin where the ship was detected.

It was also not clear 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 a long time for reasons unknown.

The police official also asked why did the ship bought 1,500 litres of diesel illegally instead of fuelling at Sharjah, or through legal channels at any of the Indian ports.