A special team of the Mercantile Marine Department has joined the ‘Q’ Branch CID of the Tamil Nadu police in the probe into U.S. vessel Seaman Guard Ohio, detained by the Coast Guard last week for having heavily armed security guards on board.
While the anti-piracy vessel and two members of the crew, including the Captain, remained under detention at the VOC Chidambaranar Port, Tuticorin, 25 Privately Contracted Armed Security Personnel and 8 crew members were arrested and lodged in the Palayamkottai Central Prison, Tirunelveli, on Friday. Since the crew/guards had no valid visa to enter the country, the ‘Q’ Branch CID police may also invoke provisions under the Foreigners Act, 1946, against them, sources in the Tamil Nadu intelligence said.
Investigators were trying to access data recorded in the navigational equipment and the logbook of the vessel. “We are verifying the Electronic Chart Display and Information System to track the movements of the vessel in recent days. Since it is a vessel built in 1984, it is not equipped with Voyage Data Recorder,” a police official said.
Going by established maritime practices, he said, the captain should have intimated the port authorities 96 hours in advance that there were armed security personnel on board and the vessel was entering Indian waters for fuel or any other exigency.
“The same vessel gave an alert to the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre and the Indian Coast Guard when a fishing net got entangled to its propeller in September this year and entered the Tuticorin Port for assistance … why did they not inform this time?” he argued.
Two members of the crew were not arrested as their presence was essential for further investigation and maintenance of the vessel until the company made alternative arrangements. The arrest of the foreign nationals was intimated to their respective embassies through diplomatic channels, the official said, adding the suspects would soon be shifted to the Puzhal central prison in Chennai.