Indian police yesterday arrested and questioned 33 people aboard a ship operated by a US anti-piracy firm for carrying guns and ammunition in Indian waters without proper permits, reports said.
India’s coastguard stopped and detained the ship off the Indian coast on Oct. 12 after discovering the cache of weapons and ammunition, before escorting it to the southern port of Tuticorin.
Police then launched an investigation into the 10 crew and 25 security guards of the Seaman Guard Ohio, which is registered in Sierra Leone and belongs to the US-based maritime security firm AdvanFort.
The 35, who include British, Estonian, Ukrainian and Indian nationals, were detained yesterday over the stash of 35 assault rifles and about 5,600 rounds of ammunition, the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency said.
Thirty-three of them were taken to a local police station for questioning, while two remained on board, PTI said, citing police sources.
The crew had not maintained a log of the arms and did not have the proper permits to carry them in Indian waters, according to NDTV, also using unnamed sources.
The incident comes after a furor erupted in India last year over the shooting deaths of two Indian fishermen allegedly by two Italian marines off the coast of the southwestern Indian state of Kerala.
The southern tip of India is close to major trading routes from Asia and Europe, and some cargo ships now travel with armed guards to deter pirates.
The British High Commission in New Delhi said its officers were attempting to provide assistance to the six British nationals on board and to clarify why they were being detained.
“We are still waiting to receive permission from the authorities to get access to them,” a spokesman in New Delhi said.
“We are also trying to better understand what the situation is, to understand why they are being investigated,” the spokesman said.
AdvanFort said its staff provided “armed counterpiracy protection” to cargo ships, and therefore their weapons and ammunition were stowed on board the Seaman Guard Ohio.
Indian Shipping Minister G.K. Vasan yesterday said that the ship would not be allowed to leave until the investigation was over.
On Thursday, Indian Deputy National Security Adviser Nehchal Sandhu said that the investigation would be dropped if it was determined the ship had been outside Indian waters.