Investigators rebut owner’s claim that ship was outside Indian waters
The US vessel with armed guards on board was anchored just 3.8 nautical miles away from the baseline from where the Indian territorial waters begin. Though the location of the vessel was 10.75 nautical miles from Vilangushuli Island off the Tuticorin coast, the baseline, determined as per the guidelines in the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea, means the vessel was even closer, sources in defence agencies said on Wednesday.
Anti-piracy ship ‘Seaman Guard Ohio’ was detained by the Indian Coast Guard on October 11, 2013 and escorted to the VOC Chidabaranar Port in Tuticorin. Sophisticated weapons and a large quantity of ammunition were seized from the vessel and its crew crew/guards booked under various provisions of law.
While the US-based owner of the Sierra Leone-flagged ship ‘AdvanFort’ claimed that the vessel was positioned away from the Indian waters until forced by the Indian Coast Guard to move in, investigators maintained that the vessel was anchored well within the territorial waters when intercepted.
The entire operation was based on specific intelligence that the vessel had entered Indian waters.
“When ICGS Naiki Devi intercepted the US vessel, it was anchored 15 nautical miles east of Pandian Light House (Tuticorin). But the coordinates were 3.8 nautical miles from the baseline and 10.75 nautical miles from the nearest land…this data is recorded in the log of the vessel,” a senior investigator told The Hindu.
Baseline is an internationally agreed upon alignment on the sea from where the territorial waters of a country begin. Besides the log seized from the vessel, the GPS and other navigational equipment analysed by the Mercantile Marine Department would also reveal the precise location of ‘Seaman Guard Ohio’, the official said.
Meanwhile, the ‘Q’ Branch CID of the Tamil Nadu police has examined the Commander of ICGS Naiki Devi and recorded his statement.
Giving details about how the US vessel came under suspicion, police sources said intelligence agencies had information that the crew was in touch with some locals of Tuticorin for logistic support. Investigation is on to check how 1,500 litres of diesel was allowed to be taken in boats to the vessel. Since the vessel had no arms/ammunition when it called on the Tuticorin Port on 9 September, 2013, investigators were also probing how the same came on board a month later, the sources added.