Venezuela Holds U.S. Flag Cargo Ship, M/V Ocean Atlas, Arrests Captain and Detains Crew
On August 29, the multipurpose US flag cargo ship, M/V Ocean Atlas, arrived in Maracaibo, Venezuela. Not long after, the ship was detained by Venezuelan security forces and was repeatedly searched by agents from Interpol and the Venezuelan drug enforcement agency, reportedly based on a tip that illegal drugs were being carried aboard the ship. When no drugs were apparently found, the Venezuelan authorities arrested the captain of the ship on charges of arms trafficking, after finding three rifles on board. The rifles were apparently listed in the ship’s manifest. The US crew were initially detained aboard, though there are reports that warrants have been issued for their arrest as well and that some or all have been taken ashore for questioning.
The M/V Ocean Atlas is an 8,000 DWT multipurpose ship with a 400 tonne lifting capacity. The ship is one of four heavy-lift vessels of Intermarine’s U.S.-flag heavy-lift affiliate, U.S. Ocean, and is operated by Crowley. The ship has a crew of 15 and is manned by AMO union officers and SIU crew.
The ship’s captain has not been identified, though Forbes is reporting that news of what is going on aboard the ship has been passed on by Russell Macomber, a crew member, using his smart phone to update his Facebook page.
The detention follows last month’s arrest of another U.S. citizen who entered illegally from neighboring Colombia and was denounced as a possible “mercenary” by President Hugo Chavez.
Socialist Chavez, who seeks re-election next month, is a ferocious critic of Washington, and his nearly 14-year rule has been characterized by frequent bilateral spats and incidents.
Thanks to Phil Leon for contributing to this post.