The Company operating a heavily armed ship that drifted into Indian territorial waters last Friday and that has since been impounded by Indian authorities investigating its origin, purpose and documentation, was involved in at least one prior felony relating to the possession of weapons without permits.
According to a document from the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Virginia (Alexandria Division), in Case 1:13CR53 AdvanFort Company, the owner of the vessel in question, the Seaman Guard Ohio, pled guilty to “Aiding and Abetting the Making of a False Statement During the Acquisition of Firearms,” which is a felony under U.S. law.
According to a popular maritime security website, gcaptain.com, AdvanFort's guilty plea and subsequent forfeiture of weapons came after an “independent contractor who promised [AdvanFort] he could obtain the needed weapons… went to a gun shop and bought 16 hunting rifles, using federal firearms forms for sales for personal use – bypassing the more complicated process needed for exporting weapons for commercial use abroad.”
Speaking to The Hindu an AdvanFort official in the company’s Washington DC office said that this episode was “completely unrelated” to last week’s incident off the Indian coast and there is “no lawsuit that prohibits us from operating firearms in any part of the world,” so far as the high seas were concerned.
He added that while AdvanFort had a license to carry firearms albeit not in India, the Seaman Guard Ohio was an “Operator Supported Vessel” which was privately owned and in that regard different from what is usually referred to as a “floating armoury.”
The AdvanFort official also explained that his company had been “victimised by fuel vendors in India,” who were traditionally responsible for obtaining the permits and proper documentation.
Earlier, reports noted that the vessel was principally operating around Galle in Sri Lanka, although according to a statement issued by AdvanFort President William Watson the Ohio was apparently strayed into Indian waters on the west coast when trying to “enter the port both to take on fuel and to escape the effects of Typhoon Phailin.”
The company was also in the news last year after two of its vessels – Advanfort Texas and Advanfort Alaska were said to have “encountered distress and were forced to break off their journey, seeking urgent assistance at Massawa, Eritrea.”
According to a draft copy of the United Nations Monitoring Group for Somalia and Eritrea both vessels and their crews arriving in Massawa were “impounded and arrested by the Eritrean authorities,” although at the time AdvanFort said that its vessels were “routing from Alexandria, Egypt, to Djibouti and had “no firearms or security equipment on board.”