All set to represent its case before the Indian court on Monday, AdvanFort International, a US-based firm that owns the ship detained off Tamil Nadu coast, termed the arrest of its crew as "inappropriate" and said it is working diplomatically and through the judicial system to prove the innocence of 35 sailors to 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, William H Watson, president of AdvanFort, said.
Washington-based AdvanFort International is the firm that owns the ship – Seaman Guard Ohio – which has been detained by authorities off the coast of Tamil Nadu for carrying heavy weapons and ammunition on board without clearance.
"So we are taking counsel. We are working diplomatically and through the judicial system to get these people released," Watson said.
"It (actions by Indian authorities) is inappropriate. The entire mission of our vessel is to safeguard commercial ship from piracy," he said adding that many of these people are themselves Indians.
"That's what we do. We protect the Indian seafarers," he noted.
"We would proclaim their innocence and try and arrange bail for them so that we can get them out pending the resolution of the inquiry. We are working both within the judicial system and the diplomatic channels to resolve this matter," he said in response to a question.
The company, Watson said, has taken up the matter with the governments of the US, Britain, Estonia and Ukraine.
"In this particular case, we were asked to come into the port. So that's why the arms and guards were still on board," he said, adding that the Indian authorities have issued them certificates which says that they are pleased and satisfied by the documentation they have found concerning the weapons and ammunition onboard, as well as that having to do with personal protection equipment," said Watson.
"I am very surprised with the actions of the Indian Coast Guard, Navy and government, because it does not make any sense to me. Everyone on board the vessel is a decorated military veteran serving now as a counter-piracy guard. They are all closely vetted. They go through intensive background checks. These are not criminals. These are brave men," he said.
Indian police: 5 held for selling fuel to US ship
The police said they have arrested five fishermen for selling 1,500 liters (330 gallons) of diesel fuel to crew members of a US-owned ship who have been arrested on charges of illegally transporting weapons and ammunition in Indian waters.
The five worked for a local shipping agent in Tamil Nadu’s Capital Chennai, said police officer M Durai. He did not give further details.
Indian foreign secretary Sujata Singh said eight crew members and 25 security guards aboard the MV Seaman Guard Ohio were arrested on Friday after they failed to produce documents allowing them to carry the weapons.
The ship, which was detained October 11, is owned by Virginia-based security company AdvanFort but is registered in Sierra Leone. AdvanFort denies the charges.
(With inputs from agencies)