The controversial case involving a private US ship illegally carrying arms off Tuticorin coast has been transferred to Tamil Nadu Q Branch for an extensive probe, a top police official said today.
"The case is being transferred to the Q branch of Tamil Nadu Police. As far as investigations are concerned, the status quo continues," a marine police official, preferring anonymity.
A day after an FIR was filed against 35 people on board 'M V Seaman Guard Ohio' under various provisions of the Arms Act, the state government transferred the probe in the sensitive case to the specialised wing and also sent a preliminary report to the Home Ministry.
The Q branch monitors activities of banned organisations and people associated with such groups.
The Tamil Nadu government has sent a preliminary report to the central government on the episode and the final report will be sent later.
Flying West African country Sierra Leone's flag, Seaman Guard Ohio, owned by US company AdvanFort was in Indian waters Friday night around 15 nautical miles from Tuticorin port.
The Indian Coast Guard escorted the ship with 35 members (10 crew and 25 security guards) to Tuticorin port, around 600 km from here.
Officials from different security departments are questioning members of the ship as automatic rifles, bullets and other arms were found on board the vessel.
The Coast Guard said the authorisation for carrying arms onboard is yet to be produced and verified.
According to a marine police official, the security guards on the ship maintained that the arms were for providing security to ships, and they were waiting for further orders.
The marine police Monday registered a first information report (FIR) against the ship crew and other members.
The police official said the crew members are giving contradictory statements. Also, the papers presented by them do not support their oral version.
AdvanFort specialises in providing maritime security against pirates.
According to the Coast Guard, the vessel was manned by a 10-member crew, of which eight are Indians and two Ukrainians.
The vessel also had 25 security guards - six British, 14 Estonians, one Ukrainian and four Indians.
The ship also bought around 1,500 litres of diesel without proper papers. A case was registered for that as well.
The police has seized 31 assault rifles and around 5,000 rounds of ammunition from the ship.
Some reports had suggested that the ship had been sailing between Tuticorin and Kudankulam and the Director General of Shipping was to file a report on the matter.
According to a website that tracks marine traffic, the last known port of call for Seaman Guard Ohio was Sharjah.
There was no official confirmation on whether the detained ship crew have submitted documents to prove that they had valid authorisation to transport weapons.
Investigating authorities have also been eliciting the reasons that forced the crew to stray into Indian waters and their suspicious role in procuring fuel through illegal route.
Meanwhile, Tamil Nadu Police have launched a manhunt for two men who allegedly procured and supplied diesel illegally for the ship.
"We want to take them into custody to probe if the deal with Ohio pertained only to diesel," an official said.
A case under the Essential Commodities Act has also been registered for buying 1,500 litres of diesel illegally with the help of a local shipping agent.