India arrests, imprisons all on board Seaman Guard Ohio

OCTOBER 20, 2013 — While movie goers continue to throng theaters to see "Captain Phillips," there continue to be reminders that the battle against piracy continues in real life and can take some ironic twists.

Seaman Guard Ohio

On Saturday, one master who himself was a victim of Somali pirates was imprisoned in India while playing his part in protecting fellow mariners against piracy. He is Captain Dudnik Valentyn. On New Year's Day, 2011, Somali pirates boarded his then vessel, the MV Bilda and he and his crew spent 11 months in captivity before being freed on payment of a $2.6 million ransom of the $8 million was originally demanded.

Captain Valentyn is now master of the Seaman Guard Ohio, a vessel used by U.S.-based maritime security firm AdvanFort International as an accommodation platform for counter-piracy guards between transits on client commercial vessels transiting the High Risk Area in the Indian Ocean.

The ship was intercepted by the Indian Coast Guard on October 12 and escorted to V.O. Chidambaranar Port in Tuticorin. Advanfort says the interception followed an anonymous accusation that the Ohio illegally carried arms and ammunition and had also purchased 1,500 liters of diesel "illegally" with the help of a local shipping agent. Advanfort strongly denies both assertions.

The newspaper The Hindu reports that, on Friday, saying that the ship had failed to provide adequate documentation for the weapons stored on board, Indian police placed under arrest 33 of the 35 people (25 guards and 10 crew members) aboard. Captain Valentyn and an engineer were allowed to remain on the ship to maintain the vessel, but the others were remanded in judicial custody until October 31 and are being held in Palayamkottai central prison.

On Saturday, reports India's Asian Age newspaper, the engineer who had remained on board, "tried to hang himself from the flag mast of the ship but was stopped in the nick of time by CISF security personnel guarding the vessel."

The engineer, named by the newspaper as Sidorenk-Ovalery, and Captain Valentyn, were taken to hospital and, after being a clean bill of health, they, too were placed in judicial custody.

India has been sensitive about armed security patrols in its waters since a February 2012 incident when two Indian fishermen were fatally shot by Italian Marines serving as the security detail on a cargo ship off the Kerala coast. The two Marines, who allegedly mistook the fishermen for pirates, are currently being prosecuted in India.

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