A top official of the United States-based firm AdvanFort that owns the ship that has been detained off the coast of Tamil Nadu has claimed that all arms and ammunition on board are licensed and were meant for anti-piracy mission.
"The weapons on board the vessel are completely legal. They are all registered. They were purchased legally and are used for our own use in safeguarding ships in the high risk area," William H Watson, president of Washington DC-based AdvanFort, told PTI.
"Our weapons are for one purpose only and that is for our arms guard to use in counter piracy operation," he asserted.
Washington-based AdvanFort International is the firm that owns the ship -- Seaman Guard Ohio -- which has been detained by authorities off the coast of Tamil Nadu for carrying heavy weapons and ammunition on board without clearance.
The ship, he said, is an Operator Support Vessel that provides an accommodations platform for its counter-piracy guards between transits on client commercial vessels transiting the High Risk Area.
"In fact, to me the irony here is that many of the ships there that my guard protect are Indian. While they are in port, they can't be doing their job," Watson said.
"We have the appropriate permits and licenses from where they (arms and ammunition) were purchased and the end user certificates for the countries where they were embarking our vessels," he said.
"We keep a very comprehensive log of all the weapons and munitions and board," he added. Watson said his understanding is that the primary investigation against the ship is the alleged purchase of illegal gasoline for the ship.
"That is the primary investigation. Of course the Indian government is very strict on fire arms. Since our vessels have fire arms they are looking at all of our records and we welcome that audit. We have nothing to hide," Watson said.
Watson said the ship never had any intention to enter the Indian water territory and was out of the 12 miles range. The US state department has been notified about it and they are monitoring the situation, he said.
"But they have not got involved directly," he added. "The investigation is still ongoing. We have not been notified by the Coast Guard or the Indian law enforcement of any results of the investigation. We look forward to it," he said, adding that AdvanFort people are reaching India in a day or two to help participate in the investigations.
"Absolutely," Watson said when asked if his company is providing full co-operation to the Indian officials. "They have been on board the vessels for hours and hours, talking to the crew, the guards on board and others. We have given every document (asked for). We have given every co-operation," he said.
Watson said the ship never had any intention to enter the Indian water territory and was out of the 12 miles range. In fact, he said Seaman Guard Ohio had entered the Tuticorin port in Tamil Nadu several times in the past, but in all those cases did not carry any arms and ammunition.
"But this time, because of the variety of reasons including the typhoon we had to actually come in with the guards and weapons abroad. We actually never intended to go to the port. We were doing fueling operation outside the Indian waters and the Coast Guard came out to us and asked us to come in. So we never intended to enter Indian waters," Watson said.
Responding to a question, Watson said he would not use the word "forced" for the Coast Guard.
"They invited us to come with them. And when the Coast Guard invites you to come with them, you come with them," he said, adding that once the vessel arrived at the port they started the investigating about the weapons on board.
"My sincere hope is that they will understand that we were conducting lawful activity. We were attempting to buy some fuel to get back to our operation in international water and to undertake our counter-piracy operation. Hopefully they will understand that. Release the men and the vessel and let them get back to work," he said.
"We believe this situation would resolve itself in a positive manner," he added.
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