The case of the US ship ‘SV Seaman Guard Ohio’gets curious and curiouser.
This ship has been loitering in India’s proximal waters for, God knows, how long. It has a crew of 10, with a Korean member among them attempting suicide ere the arrest of the crew was underway, and a complement of 25 “guards” and a cache of 35 Kalashnikovs and 5,000 rounds of ammunition, enough to start an affray. An Indian Coast Guard ship intercepted Ohio on Sept 9, boarded and inspected it and gave it a clean chit, with an Assistant Commandant verifying this in a letter (that the TV channel News X flashed). Between that date and this vessel’s running out of diesel fuel necessitating clandestine and illegal replenishment inside the 12 mile Indian territory, when it was apprehended, it became an arms carrier.
The likely mission of the ship in these parts — (1) Influence the troubled presidential elections process ongoing in the Maldives by strongarm methods — an AK-47 pointed at somebody can get a lot of things done, certainly sway the course of the polls, (2) as planned, transfer the cache of arms to Naxals in peninsular India, the criminal mafia headed by the pestiferous Dawood Gang, or to the Islamist radical elements active on the west coast stretching from the Konkan region, to the Karnataka shoreline (remember Bhatkal is a coastal village) to the Coromandal in Kerala where the radicalized youth can create with even a smaller store of small arms, with the unloading set for a pre-designated point or, as propagated by certain ex-navymen (Commodores Ranjit Rai & Uday Bhaskar), that this ship was an innocuous “floating armoury” permitted by the International Maritime Organization to combat piracy, which doesn’t make sense because Somali pirate cartels, backed by big Western monies, simply do not pack the wherewithal to operate at these distances, or have the incentive to depart from their favourite hunting grounds around Aden, where the pickings remain rich.
All the above four missions impact India’s national security and this ship should have been trailed all along, and the CG vessel, once it picked up on Ohio, ought to have monitored its loitering in India’s extended sea zone to ensure it was not up to any hanky-panky, with the navy on its tail if it ventured Maldives-wards — none of which happened.
One hopes the Coast Guard actually deserves the encomiums heaped on it by the former Commodores, because there’s the possibility that the first inspection may have been on a truncated basis in return for some monetary or other consideration. Otherwise, the mystery deepens — how did the cache get into Ohio’s hold between Sept 9 when CG boarded it off Kochi and gave it a clean chit, and mid-Oct? The only way this could have happened is by air drop or mid-seas transfer from another ship. Which country can muster such capacity? Only the United States, with its Diego Garcia base permitting it to sustain activity such as the one by Ohio. The US role can be hinted at from the interest shown by the US Embassy and the British High Commission (owing to British nationals being part of the crew or guard group? isn’t clear) and the nearly 4-5 days between the forcible docking of the ship at Tuticorin and the arrest by the Kerala Police of the crew and its other passengers, wherein intense negotiations to release the men but keep the ship and the cache — no questions asked, were perhaps on. The reason Manmohan Singh did not strike the proffered compromise was no doubt because of the difficult political straits the Congress party regime finds itself in already, and any such release would have blown up in its face, immediately endangering both the central govt and the party govt in Kerala, and generally muddied the party’s prospects some more in the runup to the next general elections.
But what would be the US interest in arming insurgents and Islamist radicals operating in India? Well, a short answer — an internally unsettled India is more pliable.