PUERTO LEMPIRA, HONDURAS - On the afternoon of May 5th, 2014, The US flagged vessel Aqua Quest, entered the Caratasca Lagoon opening eight miles from the docks of the small town of Puerto Lempira in the Mosquito Coast area where it was to check in with the Port Captain. The team was traveling to Honduras to work on a cooperative project with the Municipality of Ahuas and Miskito Indians; a project several years in the making and one that would have a positive effect on the struggling residents.
The Honduran Navy placed a Pilot onboard to guide the Aqua Quest through the shallow canal and into port. The pilot instead ran it up on a sand bar. The Captain of the Aqua Quest was finally able to get to shore just before the Port's office closed for business at 4 p.m. The Port Captain said it was too late to fully process their customs entry that day but confirmed that he would be ready at 6 a.m. to review their paperwork and told them to get a good nights rest.
While the crew was sleeping, Naval and Local Police boarded, claiming to have authority to inspect the vessel and seized the Aqua Quest and arrested/imprisoned the crew. The next morning the Port Captain objected to the seizing of the vessel and the crew but was ignored by the local police.
At the arraignment hearing thirty hours later, the Port Captain continued to protest that proper procedures were not followed. He stated that any firearms on board, if not allowed onto Honduran territory, would have been kept in his offices.
At a hearing on Tuesday May 13th, 2014, the men were ordered to be further illegally detained for the false firearms charges. The boat was placed in the custody of the Honduran Navy.
The laws and procedures surrounding the case are clearly on the side of the Captain and crew. They are disputed only by the local judge and prosecutor. The ship was well within its rights to protect itself while traveling in troubled International waters.
Detailed review of Honduran law and International protocol adopted and previously adhered to by Honduras, reveals that the Port Captain is to be the first to board a foreign vessel. He has the right to hold any firearms at his discretion. This did not happen. the Navy and Police intercepted the vessel, circumventing maritime protocol. The firearms officer with proper credentials on board the Aqua Quest was never called to testify during the truncated hearing.
As of today, the six law abiding American citizens remain in a Honduran prison. They are Robert Mayne Jr, Michael Mayne Sr, Nick Cook, Devon Butler, Kelly Garrett and Steve Matanich. Growing support for the Americans has come from local leaders, US Senate and Congressional members, The State Department and the American Embassy.
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