Six Americans Detained for Illegal Weapons
Six Americans who were salvaging goods from the seafloor off the coast of Honduras have been detained in a Honduran jail for over three weeks as officials have charged them with illegal weapons possession.
On May 5, after the ship pulled into port in Puerto Lempira, police came aboard, arrested the crew and seized the vessel, according to Aqua Quest, the Florida company the men work for.
The ship's captain stated that the weapons on board were for personal protection against pirates.
The crew in Honduras was tasked with removing valuable mahogany logs from a nearby river bed. The goal was to clear the waterways to ease the way for vessels in the area. The wood, remnants of decades of logging in that region, commands a high price on the open market. Profits from its sale was to be shared with locals for infrastructure and social programs.
The men now have no access to good sanitation and are not being properly fed. Another crewman, who was not arrested, has tried to purchase additional food for them, but some of it has been stolen. Gunfire erupted around them last week, and brutal fights break out in the prison often.
In Aqua Quest’s official statement, it notes that authorities boarding and searching the ship evaded proper legal procedures. The company said “Honduran officials had the legal possibility of dealing with the weapons without imposing detentions.”
The official charge is illegal possession of firearms detrimental to the internal security of Honduras. The caliber of the weapons caused authorities to deem them "commercial." Aqua Quest and the crewmembers are unwavering in the claim that their weapons were for personal use and not for resale on the black market.
The U.S. State Department has confirmed the detention. The U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa has been monitoring the case and providing consular assistance; officials last visited the crew on May 19.
U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pennsylvania, has attempted to intervene on the men's behalf. "I have been working with American officials and other contacts to expedite the detainees' release. I have formally written to the Honduran Ambassador to the United States requesting his personal engagement to swiftly resolve the situation," he said in a statement.
According to CNN, a lawyer in Honduras familiar with the case says the men could face up to 16 years in prison.
Aqua Quest International salvages precious cargo from sunken vessels underwater beds, according to its website. That can range from valuable ore to historic artifacts.