Venezuela’s government led by Hugo Chavez has seized a U.S. flagged ship and crew, according to Panorama, a daily newspaper in that country.
The ship, Ocean Atlas, has been held since the end of August. Panorama said an American diplomat confirmed the ship’s captain was arrested. The diplomat described the situation as a “case in development.”
Forbes surfaced the story in the U.S. with writer Christopher Helman updating the saga that has an unusual aspect.
One of the sailors—a Merchant Marine named Russell Macomber—continues to post to his Facebook page even though he and 13 other crew members are confined to the ship. All 14 crew members and the captain are U.S. citizens, according to the Spanish-language newspaper.
Panorama said the ship arrived at the port of Maracaibo; it set sail from Punto Fijo. The newspaper also said the Colombian Government sent an alert after the ship “had not been reviewed in its entirety and brought suspected goods.”
At least 4 law enforcement agencies inspected the ship, including Interpol. None of them found drugs.
If Chavez seeks to hold onto the valuable vessel it wouldn’t be the first time he stole something from an American company. In 2010 he nationalized 11 oil rigs operating in Venezuela and owned by Helmerich & Payne. Chavez at the time said the rigs were “of public utility.”
Intermarine, the company operating the ship, said the Ocean Atlas is a heavy-lift, box-hold, multipurpose vessel built in 2000. Forbes said the ship had docked at Maracaibo to unload “a cargo of equipment.”
Macomber said 3 rifles were aboard for defense against pirates.
Panorama said, “It was not clear whether any local laws were violated.”
On Friday, Macomber said on Facebook, “Only I could manage to get detained in Venezuela during the last weekend of Key West BrewFest. Dohhhhhhhh!!!!”
The Maritime Administration falls under the auspices of the U.S. Dept. of Transportation.
(Filed by Kay B. Day/Sept. 7, 2012)
Media announced on Sept. 10 the ship, crew and captain have been released and charges have been dropped.