The crew of a U.S.-owned merchant ship was arrested in the Venezuelan port of Maracaibo after weapons were found on board, a U.S. embassy official said.
The captain and 14 crew members, all U.S. citizens, were arrested Aug. 31 following an inspection in which three assault rifles were discovered on the cargo ship Ocean Atlas, said the official, who wasn’t authorized to discuss the case publicly. Venezuelan authorities weren’t satisfied when told that the rifles were aboard the craft because of fears of attacks from pirates, the official said.
The arrests follow the August detention of an unnamed U.S. citizen attempting to enter Venezuela from Colombia whom President Hugo Chavez said may be a “mercenary.” The U.S. and Venezuela have frequently clashed since Chavez, a self-declared “anti-imperialist,” came to power 13 years ago. Chavez, who faces elections on Oct. 7, accuses the U.S. of having supported a 2002 coup against him.
The Ocean Atlas is a heavy-lift, box-hold, multipurpose vessel, according to a description of the ship on the website of New Orleans-based Intermarine LLC.
Chalice McGee, head of corporate communications at Intermarine, didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment. A press official at the Interior and Justice Ministry wasn’t immediately available. A press official at the Ports Ministry deferred comment to the Interior Ministry.