India on Friday justified the detention of a ship owned by an American company and the arrest of its crew, saying the action was taken as the vessel in Indian waters carried arms, ammunition and armed guards without necessary authorisation. “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,” Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh told reporters here. She was commenting when asked about the detention of the ship and the arrest of its 33 crew members.
Britain, meanwhile, sought consular access to six nationals who were a part of the crew. “We have written to the MEA to request consular access to the British nationals,” UK High Commission spokesperson Marcus Winsley said.
Meanwhile, security officials in Kochi, where the ship was berthed in August, said they embarked on the vessel twice and carried out detailed inspections. “The vessel was clean when berthed in Kochi; they had declared that it’s free of armed guards, arms and ammunition. They declared that they came to Kochi for bunkering. It might have touched the Kochi Port after unloading arms to some other vessel,” said a top Coast Guard official.
However, experts felt that with the legal status of floating armouries unclear, the issue raised a lot of questions. “The simple explanation that Seaman Guard Ohio was providing security to merchant vessels from pirates can’t be taken at face value,” said Vice Admiral (retd) K N Sushil, former Commanding-in-Chief of the Southern Naval Command.
“Who authorised them? What are the conditionalities involved? Who pays them? What is the right of passage for the vessel to enter Indian territorial waters? Who sanctioned them the right to operate with armed guards? If no countries have issued such a sanction, they themselves should be treated as pirates,” Sushil said.
The ICG had detained the ship at Thoothukudi VOC Port after it was intercepted on October 11. Initially, the Marine Police had filed a case and conducted inquiry with the members. The case was then transferred to Q-branch police.
Since then Bhavaneeswari, Superintendent of Police, Q-branch, has been conducting inquiry with the crew and the fishermen who supplied diesel to it. - With PTI inputs