Two Middle Georgians are among six Americans who have been imprisoned for more than a month in Honduras, accused by the government there of smuggling weapons into the country.
Nicholas Cook, 31, of Thomaston, and Kelly Garrett, 53, of Barnesville, were among the six crew members of the Aqua Quest who were arrested May 5 by the Honduran navy. Other members of the crew include the ships captain, Robert Mayne Jr., 60, originally from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, as well as Michael Mayne Sr., 57, of Cape Cod, Devon Butler, 26, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and Steve Matanich, 34, of Joliet, Illinois.
The six men are in a Honduran prison while the State Department and attorneys try to secure their release.
An official with the Honduran embassy in Washington, D.C., declined to field questions on the situation, other than to call the case delicate.
A State Department official declined to go into detail about the case, but he did email a statement to The Telegraph:
There is no greater priority for us than the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad, the statement read. The U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa has been monitoring the case closely and has been providing appropriate consular assistance. Consular officials last visited the crew on May 19.
On May 5, the Honduran navy put a pilot aboard the Aqua Quest to guide it into port, according to a statement. However, the pilot ran the ship onto a sandbar. By the time the ship was freed, it was too late for the crew to file its paperwork. Officials told them to do so the next morning. The crew members were asleep when the navy boarded the ship.
Stephen Mayne, chief operating officer of Aqua Quest International, which operates the vessel, said Friday that the crew was invited by the government three months ago to clear the waters around Puerto Lempiro of debris that has collected over the years, making travel hazardous.
The crew was to turn salvaged wood over to the Hondurans, who were planning to use it to create 100 jobs in the town to make various crafts.
However, the Aqua Quest was stopped by the Honduran navy, which claimed the firearms on the ship were illegal and were about to be smuggled into the country.
Mayne, the brother of Robert and Michael Mayne, said the charges are false. Crew members carried firearms for protection against pirates, he said, and they had planned to turn the weapons in to the port captain once the ship docked. He said the Hondurans claim that the crew had an AK-47 assault rifle was untrue.
Of course we (carried guns), Mayne said. Itd be foolish to cruise without them. Those waters are pirate infested.
Mayne said the crew is in real danger while in prison, noting that guards fired shots at other prisoners earlier this week. According to news reports from USA Today and CNN, the crew has to pay prison officials $20 a day in order to be housed together.
Mayne couldnt guess why the Hondurans want the crew.
They shouldnt be (in prison), he said. (The crew) did everything by the book. Theyve been detained unlawfully by officials with suspect motives.
Mayne said it was the first time the crew has worked in Honduras, though the invitation to work there came three years ago as part of an open for business campaign by the government.
A fund has been set up at http://tinyurl.com/mynmqtn by family and friends to help defray the cost of legal fees. So far, $3,568 has been raised toward a goal of $18,500.
Mayne is worried that other American companies will sail to Honduras as part of the campaign. Last week the government was soliciting Florida-based cruise lines to add Honduras to their routes. Mayne said hes concerned what might happen to a cruise ship filled with hundreds of Americans.
He said they are seeking help from U.S. lawmakers in their bid to help free the prisoners.
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.