UPDATE: American Ship Captain Detained in Venezuela On Arms Trafficking Suspicions
Some crewmembers are now speaking out anonymously. They have confirmed that Venezuelan authorities have detained the captain of the U.S.-flagged Ocean Atlas and are accusing him of arms trafficking.
The ship had been detained for nine days and the captain had been taken from the ship Wednesday night. Arrest warrants were issued for the entire crew, who would have to give depositions today - two at a time and accompanied by a U.S. consular representative. They will then be escorted back to the cargo ship.
The incident was described by crewmen in a CNN report as follows:
A few hours after the ship arrived at the Maracaibo port, it was boarded by Interpol officials, Venezuelan police officers and narcotics investigators who said they had received a tip that the vessel was smuggling drugs. No drugs were discovered, but weapons that the ship's security team keeps in a locker were found.
The captain had reportedly declared the weapons upon arrival in port and received clearance, but the Venezuelan authorities now said the ship didn't have permission to have them on board and confiscated them.The ship was then under investigation for arms trafficking, and earlier this week, the ship had been officially charged.
Shortly after, the captain made a court appearance, followed by 20 to 30 armed soldiers demanding to be let on board. They held the crew at gunpoint before sending them to the mess. They then met with the captain in his office and took him away. The captain hasn't returned to the ship, but has talked on the phone to the chief mate.
Many have been told that the captain has been charged with arms trafficking. The captain was detained after he refused to let authorities arrest the crew.
An American captain of a U.S.-flagged cargo ship has been arrested by Venezuelan authorities after they found three rifles onboard his ship. The ship was boarded by armed security personnel, and the captain was detained on suspicion of trafficking in arms or drugs.
According to Reuters, the U.S. Embassy official in Caracas said the Ocean Atlas has been in the west Venezuelan port of Maracaibo since it was seized last week, with the captain detained just a few days ago. The situation is still developing; it is unclear if charges were being pressed against the captain.
The captain and 15 crew members, who are still on the vessel under watch, are American citizens. According to Forbes, arrest warrants are believed to have been issued for all of the crewmembers, who are to be taken off the ship for questioning.
The rifles were listed on the ship's manifest, but it was unclear whether their presence violated any local law. Weapons are common on commercial ships and are often considered necessary as possible defense against pirates or other threats.
No comments have been made by Venezuelan officials or the ship’s operator, Intermarine LLC.
The Ocean Atlas is a heavy-lift, multipurpose cargo vessel built in 2000 with a length of 394 feet.