The Tamil Nadu police on Friday arrested 33 crew members of an American ship detained last week for illegally entering Indian waters with a huge cache of arms and ammunition.
Earlier reports said all 35 members on board were arrested, but a press release issued by the office of the Tamil Nadu director-general of police said “two crew members were left for upkeep and maintenance of the vessel, till the company makes alternative arrangements for the ship’s maintenance”.
The MV Seaman Guard Ohio, an armed ship operated by a US maritime security company AdvanFort, was detained last Friday with 35 people on board by the Coast Guard east of Tuticorin, around 600 km south of Chennai, for failing to produce papers authorising it to carry weapons and ammunition in Indian waters.
According to the press note, the ‘Q’ Branch CID of the police arrested eight crew members and 25 guards on Friday morning, leaving two crew members for upkeep and maintenance of the vessel.
The release stated that a case was registered in Tharuvaikulam Marine police station against the crew members and guards on board the vessel on the complaint of the assistant commandant of Indian Coast Guard, Tuticorin, on October 13.
The complaint included offences under the Arms Act, 1959, Essential Commodities Act, 1955, and Motor Spirit and High Speed Diesel (prevention of malpractices in supply and distribution order), 1990.
It said investigation by the ‘Q’ Branch CID of the police revealed that the said vessel was found in the territorial waters of our country and was in possession of a huge quantity of arms and ammunition without valid authorisation of documents. Further, the said vessel has drawn illegally about 1,500 litres of diesel from private sources in our land without following the procedure.
During the course of investigation, the release added, the ‘Q’ Branch CID has seized 35 arms and about 5,680 ammunitions from the vessel. Further investigations are on, the police said.
The state government on Friday said the arrested seamen were produced before a magistrate court in Tuticorin and remanded in custody. The Central and state police are investigating the case, police officials said, adding that the state has taken the case seriously and has refused to set the sailors free.
Earlier, Coast Guard Commandant Anand Kumar said the ship was stopped on October 11 and was being held in the southern port of Tuticorin along with its 10 crew and 25 armed security guards until required documentation is submitted.
The crew and security guards included British, Estonian, Indian and Ukrainian nationals, Kumar said. Eight out of them were Indians. The southern tip of India is close to major trading routes from Asia to Europe.
Many cargo ships now travel with armed guards to deter pirates. Sri Lanka, close to Tuticorin, is a popular boarding point for private armed guards.
The ship was reportedly in Indian waters for three days before it was detected. According to the police, the crew broke several Indian laws and maintained no log of the arms on board.
It was reportedly carrying 31 assault rifles and around 5,000 rounds of ammunition, which were seized by the Coast Guard.
Deputy National Security Adviser Nehchal Sandhu had earlier said he did not think that the detained ship was involved in gunrunning.
“I don’t think so.” He added that it is likely to be owned by a private maritime security company. Some media reports have said a US-based anti-piracy company owns it.
AdvanFort claims the ship entered the Indian waters to escape the fury of cyclone Phailin, which made landfall on India’s eastern coast (near Gopalpur in Ganjam district of Odisha) on Saturday. The vessel, however, was detected far from where the cyclone hit Odisha and Andhra Pradesh last weekend.
India is very sensitive about the presence of armed security guards on merchant ships after the shooting deaths of two fishermen by armed Italian marines last year in February. The marines were part of a military security team on a cargo ship when they fired at the fishermen, mistaking them for pirates.
The two Italians are facing trial in India for the deaths.
The Ernakulam Town North police have registered a case against People’s Democratic Party leader Abdul Nasir Maudany on the charge of planning the murder of Bharatheeya Vichara Kendram director P. Parameswaran and Father Alavi.
The case was registered on Wednesday following an order by the District Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate Court on a petition by T.G. Mohandas, former general secretary of the kendram.
Maudany, an accused in the 2008 Bangalore blasts case, allegedly hatched plans to murder Mr. Parameswaran and Father Alavi from his house at Kaloor here. Mr. Mohandas said in his petition that a statement accusing Maudany of the crime had been made in 1998 by a person named T.K. Muhammad before A.V. George, then Circle Inspector of the Kozhikode Town police. According to the statement, T.K. Muhammad told the police that Maudany had tried many times to get the two killed between 1996 and 1998. Maudany allegedly offered PDP member Muhammad Ashraf Rs.5,000 each for the killings. Ashraf allegedly told T.K. Muhammad that Maudany had promised to send him to Pakistan.
The second person Bilal Malik is suspected to be the brain behind the murder of BJP leader V. Ramesh in Salem in July this year. The police zeroed in on both of them after they nabbed Fakruddin of the Islamic Liberation Front on the Tamilnadu-Andhra Pradesh border and he reportedly spilled beans on the presence of Malik and Panna in Puttur.
From a security angle, it was the first action that the OCTOPUS (Organisation for Counter Terrorist Operations), the elite anti-terror commando force of the Andhra Pradesh police, that was set up to take care of terrorist operations, handled. And handled successfully, given the challenge flushing out the two alleged terrorists who were using a woman and her three children as human shield posed. It turned out that they were Malik’s family.
It was around 5:30 am on Saturday when the phone of the OCTOPUS chief rang in Hyderabad. It helped that in addition to the one team of OCTOPUS that is permanently stationed at Tirumala-Tirupati, another team too had been sent across ahead of the Brahmotsavam at Dussehra time. Within an hour, one of the teams consisting of 35 men had moved to the location.
The initial foray into the area by the Tamil Nadu police had run into trouble, with one inspector stabbed by one of the men inside. By the time the OCTOPUS arrived, the local police had ensured cordoning off of the house. The Tamil Nadu police helped in communicating with the men, who spoke only in Tamil. “They were the ones to shout back and negotiate with them in Tamil,” said an officer.
Once the commandos realised that they had to first get the woman and the three children out, they knew this was going to be a long operation that would mean tiring out the two men inside through prolonged negotiations. They were apprehensive that the children may get scared because of the gunshots. Seeing a cradle inside the house through a window confused them because if one of the children was an infant, it would complicate the operation. They were also unsure of the kind of ammunition the two men had with them.
“If there was no one else, it would be a five-minute job. But with the possibility of an infant, we could not take any chances,” said an officer. The team said they are trained to take on armed terrorists so weapons with them wasn’t a concern. It was only the possibility of a hostage crisis that created doubts in the mind.
The team had covered all possible exits, with expert snipers positioned at appropriate places. The intention was to capture, not to kill. Finally, the eleven hour long siege ended with the two men surrendering to the police.
Their presence so close to the Tirumala temple set off alarm bells especially with the Brahmotsavams starting at the shrine coinciding with the Dussehra festival. Investigators will now try to probe the activities they indulged in during the six months they stayed in Puttur to find out if they were up to something or just using the time to cool their heels after the two acts in Bangalore and Salem.
The whistleblower who blew the lid off the secret telephone exchange at the residence of Dayanidhi Maran connected with Sun TV, now credits 2G tainted former Union telecom minister A Raja with exposing it after the Marans were banished by DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi. “It was Raja who initiated the inquiry against the alleged allotment of 323 ISDN phone connections to former Union Telecom Minister Dayanidhi Maran after the Marans fell out with the DMK’s first family in 2007,” claimed C K Mathivanan, deputy general secretary of the National Federation of Telecom Employees (BSNL) Union.