Six American men working for a salvage company based in the Tampa area are being held in a jail in a small town on the Mosquito Coast of Honduras on charges of illegally attempting to bring firearms into the country.
According to according to the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa as well as Stephen Mayne, the chief operating officer of Aqua Quest International, local police boarded the company’s boat, the Aqua Quest, in the early morning hours of May 5, seized the vessel and arrested the crew.
A statement on the company’s Facebook page said the men were detained for firearms violations "on the false claim that a weapon they were carrying was an AK-47.” A company spokesman said the guns were onboard to protect the crew against pirates.
Mayne told Fox News Latino that the men who were imprisoned included two of his brothers, Michael Mayne Sr. and Robert Mayne Jr.—who is the captain of the boat and the CEO of the company—as well as four other team members: Nick Cook, Devon Butler, James Kelly Garrett and Steve Matanich.
Stephen Mayne said that the company had been solicited by the government of Honduras earlier this year to help the town of Ahuas, on the remote Mosquito coast, “clear and retrieve underwater obstacles, including valuable timber” from a river and estuary in the municipality.
The retrieved material was to be used by the town for road improvements and to provide material for local artisans and lobster divers.
Mayne said that the company had been in talks with the Honduran government for years about doing work there, and this was its first project.
He added that the accusations against the crew are “trumped up,” but he did acknowledge the boat did have arms aboard, but that they were for defensive purposes only. Pirates are a concern in the area of the Honduras coast where they were working.
Mayne said "The laws and procedures surrounding the case are clearly on the side of the captain and crew," said the company statement about the incident. "The ship was well within its rights to protect itself while traveling in troubled international waters."
The local police, he added, “overstepped their authority.”
Officials at the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa told FNL in a statement in Spanish on Thursday afternoon, “The wellbeing and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is of the utmost importance to the U.S. government. The U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa has been closely monitoring this case and has lent the proper assistance. The last visit we made to them was on May 19.”
Elizabeth Hittos, the chief of staff for Rep. Gus Bilirakis, a Republican from Florida, said the lawmaker’s office has been working to get answers from U.S. officials about the crew’s arrest and detention.
“We’re going to escalate with a letter and demand a response from them,” Hittos said. “There needs to be action taken. What should concern people is that American citizens are being arrested without due process. That is why we need to know the full spectrum of what’s in place. There’s concern that the rule of law is not being followed by the Honduran government.”
Accoring to Mayne, the men's case has been sent to an appeal court for review, which has until Friday to schedule a hearing.
He also told FNL that while the guards at the jailhouse in Puerto Lempira where the U.S. men are being held are treating them with “kindness and respect,” he is concerned for the safety of his brothers.
“I spoke to them a few days ago,” he said. “And the guards fired shots, trying to break up a fight involving the other prisoners.”
He added, “They are aware that a lot of bad things can happen, and that they’re in harm’s way.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Elizabeth Llorente can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on https://twitter.com/Liz_Llorente