In a swift operation, the Indian Coast Guard on Friday night detained a Sierra Leone-flagged vessel with 25 armed guards on board, at Tuticorin.
Though the vessel - Seaman Guard Ohio – belongs to AdvanFort, a US-based firm that provides maritime security, sources in defence agencies said the crew and guards could not explain why they had entered Indian waters. They had no documents authorising their possession of sophisticated arms and ammunition, which included semi-automatic weapons and self-loading rifles.
According to Inspector-General and Commander Coast Guard (Region East) Satya Prakash Sharma, the operations centre here received information late on Friday that a vessel with armed guards on board was seen near the Tuticorin coast. After putting the vessel under electronic surveillance, Indian Coast Guard Ship ‘Naiki Devi’ intercepted and escorted it to the Tuticorin Port on Saturday.
The guards/crew comprising British, Estonian, Ukranian and Indian nationals were interrogated by a multi-agency joint investigation team at Tuticorin. The authorisation for possessing weapons on board was yet to be produced by them. Probe as to whether the vessel was involved in arms trafficking would be undertaken by the coastal police, he said.
According to defence sources, the crew members claimed that they were involved in providing security to Gulf-bound merchant vessels, and that they were authorised to carry arms.
The authorities were waiting for an official communication from the company’s headquarters to vouch for their claim.
When contacted by The Hindu, an official at AdvanFort’s emergency centre in US said she would consult her headquarters and get back on the development. However, there was no official word from the company till late on Saturday.
The official website of AdvanFort says it is a privately held company with headquarters in Washington, DC and offices around the world. The company provides comprehensive maritime security solutions for the commercial shipping industry. The security teams comprise former US, UK and NATO Special Forces operators who are expertly skilled and equipped to deter piracy measures and allow for safe passage in international waters, the website said.