"While many seafarers think it was an unwarranted action by the Taiwanese authorities primarily to satisfy their local fishermen and the investigations also cleared Tosa later, the Seaman Guard episode should not be seen as an “Official-harassment” among the international seafaring community."
While the US-based firm AdvanFort, which owns the anti-piracy escort ship Seaman Guard Ohio that has been detained off the coast of Tamil Nadu, termed the action as “inappropriate,” the local police filed a case against the crew and arrested all of them.
According to police sources, a case was registered in Tharuvaikulam Marine PS on Oct. 13 against the crew and guard on board in the vessel Seaman Guard Ohio on the complaint of Assistant Commandant, Indian Coast Guard, Tuticorin, 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.
Investigation by the ‘Q’ Branch CID revealed that the said vessel was found in the territorial waters of India and was in possession of a huge quantity of arms and ammunition, without valid authorisation of documents.
Pic courtesy: www.advanfort.com
During the course of investigation, the ‘Q’ Branch CID seized 35 arms and about 5,680 ammunition from the vessel and also arrested eight crew and 25 guards on the morning of Oct. 18, leaving two crew for upkeep and maintenance of the vessel, till the company makes alternative arrangements for the maintenance of the vessel.
Since then, there were dramatic developments in USA, where the firm is located, and there are frantic efforts by the international community to pinpoint the Indian Government action as ill-advised and against international maritime conventions.
As a security measure, all the arrested crew-members are now shifted to a prison located in the vicinity of the state capital Chennai.
In a strongly worded statement, AdvanFort, while terming the action as “inappropriate,” added that the firm, which relentlessly work for safeguard of commercial ship from piracy attacks in oceans, is working diplomatically and through the judicial system to prove the innocence of 35 detained crew-members and get them released.
“Our vessel Seaman Guard OHIO has been detained in Tuticorin and 35 of our crew and guards are being held. We believe the entire issue is inappropriate, because we were asked to come into Indian territorial waters by the Indian Coast Guard, while we were outside the Indian territorial waters where we were operating,” Mr. William H Watson, President of AdvanFort, told a news agency in India.
One of the members arrested by the police include Capt. Dudnik Valentyn, a master who himself was a victim of Somali pirates. On New Year’s Day in 2011, Somali pirates boarded Capt. Dudnik’s then vessel, the MV Bilda and he and his crew spent 11 months in captivity before being freed on payment of a $2.6 million ransom of the $8 million originally demanded.
Capt. Valentyn is now master of the Seaman Guard Ohio, a vessel used by U.S.-based maritime security firm AdvanFort International as an accommodation platform for counter-piracy guards between transits on client commercial vessels transiting the High Risk Area in the Indian Ocean.
Though the company is yet to produce any valid documents for carrying such huge quantity of weapons onboard, seafarers’ community in India as well as from other countries expressed apprehensions that it should not become thaw in the Indo-US relationship.
An Indian seafarer also recalled how an Indian Captain of MV Tosa was taken to task without valid reasons in Taiwan a few years ago.
In April 2009, MV Tosa, a Panama registered cargo vessel with an international crew, which had unloaded in a South Korean port, was moving to Singapore.
One early morning during her journey, MV Tosa allegedly collided with a Taiwanese fishing trawler, killing two onboard. Capt. Glen Aroza from Mangalore was in charge, with duty officer from Bangladesh Mohammud Karim and seaman Eduardo Mallorca from the Philippines. It was not yet daylight when the alleged collision took place and most people on the MV Tosa were asleep.
The Taiwanese police surrounded the cargo ship within an hour, boarded it and escorted the vessel to Port Hua Lien. Aroza, Karim and Mallorca were immediately arrested and taken to jail, where they remained for the next 17 months while investigations went on as if MV Tosha had actually collided with the Taiwanese fishing boat.
After thorough investigations under water and hull inspection undertaken by the Taiwan and Singapore authorities they concluded that Tosa was not involved in any kind of collision. Finally, Aroza was allowed to return to India in October 2010.
While many seafarers think it was an unwarranted action by the Taiwanese authorities primarily to satisfy their local fishermen and the investigations also cleared Tosa later, the Seaman Guard episode should not be seen as an “Official-harassment” among the international seafaring community.
While Indian authorities are still investigating whether the vessel wantonly entered Indian territorial waters with any motive or lured into by gullible fuel-selling trawlers, only the final outcome of the enquiry would reveal.