Republic of Sierra Leone Ship Registry Protests India?s Seizure of U.S. Ship
An African ship registry under which the counter-piracy support ship MV SEAMAN GUARD OHIO is registered has issued a formal letter of protest to the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) for the “unlawful seizure and detention” of the vessel.
Ship registries license vessels and allow them to fly the flag of the country where registered. This allows the vessel in question to travel internationally under the flag of that nation and gives evidence of ownership and regulatory compliance. A registered vessel is not an extraterritorial possession as is a warship. It is extraterritorial chattel or property analogous to any other item of property under the protection of the registry or flag state.
According to a letter by the Maritime Registrar’s office, the complaint focuses on four (4) separate Indian Coast Guard actions against the MV SEAMAN GUARD OHIO, “which legally operates under the flag of our [Sierra Leone] Nation.”
The violations listed came under PART VIl, ARTICLE 87 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS.
The ICG is said to have acted to “illegally lure” the MV SEAMAN GUARD OHIO, which was operating in international waters as defined by UNCLOS into lndian territorial waters, also defined by UNCLOS, and then did illegally boarding and searching the vessel and detaining and arresting the crew without the consent of the Government of Sierra Leone, and preventing the vessel’s freedom of navigation.
The letter noted that: “Prior to being lured into lndian waters, the [MV SEAMAN GUARD OHIO] was serving as a floating accommodation platform for Privately Contracted Armed Security Personnel (PCASP) team members between transits aboard client vessels of the AdvanFort Company (a Private Maritime Security Company based in the United States).”
The letter continues: “[the] “Sierra Leone lnternational Ship Registry requests the immediate release of the of Master, Officers & and Crew of the [MV SEAMAN GUARD OHIO] in order to allow the vessel to continue on its voyage and freely navigate international waters in accordance with international law status.”
The vessel, whose crew included eight Indians, was intercepted and detained by the Indian Coast Guard east of Tuticorin two weeks ago following an anonymous accusation that the MV SEAMAN GUARD OHIO illegally carried arms and ammunition, and had purchased 1,500 liters of diesel “illegally” with the help of a local shipping agent in violation of the Export Control Act.
The vessel’s charterer, AdvanFort International, the maritime security company, strongly denies both assertions.