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Was US ship detained in Tamil Nadu smuggling arms to India?

October 21, 2013 14:27 IST

The close proximity of the Arab billionaire who owns the seized ship, MV Seaman Guard Ohio, to the Pentagon raises a number of questions about its presence in Indian waters. Vicky Nanjappa reports      

The mystery shrouding the United States ship carrying arms and ammunition, which was detained at Tamil Nadu’s Tuticorin port, appears to be getting deeper. Even as investigations in the case move at a snail’s pace, preliminary reports suggest that the huge cache of arsenal was being smuggled into the Indian territory.

Investigators have recovered 35 assault rifles and nearly 4,000 rounds of ammunition from the vessel MV Seaman Guard Ohio. The ship belongs of AdvanFort, a firm in Washington, and is owned by US-based billionaire Arab Samir Farajallah. He lives in the vicinity of the White House and this raises even more suspicion about a direct link of America to the incident, point investigators. They categorically state that the ship was carrying weapons, which were part of a smuggling deal. However, it not clear if the ammunition was going to be off loaded on the Indian shore. The ship was docked at Kochi before sailing into Tamil Nadu waters where it was detained.

Authorities from the southern state have complained about similar incidents in the past. Chinese vessels smuggling arms and ammunition from Sri Lanka often pass through Indian waters but get away because they are very influential. The case of MV Seaman Guard Ohio is no different, they say.

The crew cannot argue that the arms belong to the security on board. AdvanFort has not provided any satisfactory explanation. They have in fact claimed that they were given a clean chit by the Coast Guard on September 9 when it docked at Tuticorin. The claim however has been proved wrong. Investigators say that they will look into this angle as well. 

Farajallah, who hails from United Arab Emirates, is said to be very close to the US establishment. He has played a significant role in the as facilitator for US companies in supplying arms to warn-torn nations such as Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is said that Farajallah is close to the Pentagon and has been instrumental in fixing meetings between delegates and US military officials. His company AdvanFort, which was established in 2009, has branches in Dubai and London and has been since then providing maritime security and armed security personnel.

Was he up to similar tricks in India as well? There are three angles to the investigation of MV Seaman Guard Ohio.

Who were the rebels in South India that this vessel intended to supply the arms to? It had made a stopover at Kochi, which investigators say was a dumping ground for such weapons in the past. The National Investigation Agency is probing this angle.  

The other possibility is the proxy war being fought in south India. Kerala has a huge presence of Islamic terrorists. Over the past few years, Indian agencies have pointed out an increase in the number of Israelis who have launched their form of counter intelligence and terrorism in the state. They believe their nationals are a target and hence have decided to launch independent operations in southern India.

The other issue that is being investigated is that of a possible turf war against China by the US. The Chinese, according to government reports, are gradually building a base in the south. There has been a confirmed presence of nearly 200 Chinese nationals in Tamil Nadu and a good number of them have been setting up base near Loyola College, Chennai.  

The Tamil Nadu authorities have been probing the possibility of Chinese authorities, who use the Sri Lanka route, offloading arms and ammunition here. With the Chinese presence increasing down south starting from Sri Lanka, the US could be possibly attempting a turf war here, is what some officials believe.

Photograph: Flickr

Vicky Nanjappa