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Yacht found adrift off Raigad coast with weapons, owner’s husband says to keep Somali pirates at bay


Written by Yogesh Naik
Friday August 19, 2022


Three AK series assault rifles and some small arms were found in the yacht. (Express photo/sourced)

An abandoned yacht was Thursday found adrift off Maharashtra, carrying three AK-74 rifles and ammunition, briefly setting off a security scare before officials ruled out a terror angle.

The yacht’s sailing master, also the husband of its Australian owner, told The Indian Express that the weapons were meant as protection against Somali pirates — and that he now wants the vessel back.

A senior Coast Guard official, meanwhile, confirmed that the weapons were all legal.

The 16-metre-long yacht, Lady Han, was found by local fisherfolk off Harihareshwar beach in Raigad district, 190 km from Mumbai, in the morning.

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The UK-flagged craft had originally set sail from West Asia towards Europe (the UK, as per the Coast Guard) before misfortune struck.

Speaking to The Indian Express over phone from the UK, sailing master Robert James said: “This yacht is owned by my wife. I was sailing with three others to Europe from Dubai. Our next halt was at Salalah (Oman) and later, we were to pass through the Suez Canal.”

James added: “On June 26, there was an engine failure in the Gulf of Oman. We raised a distress call and were rescued by a cargo ship, Kyoto Express. I was unconscious as I suffered a head injury. The next morning, I was airlifted by a helicopter and taken to a hospital in Salalah (in Oman) as I had trauma. On the same evening, after my three member crew found it difficult to continue the journey due to weather, they were rescued by a Korean warship and they also tried to tow my vessel.”

The sailing master said the yacht broke apart from the Korean warship and went adrift while being towed.

Director General of Coast Guard Virender Pathania, too, gave a similar account.

James claimed he had tried contacting the Indian Navy to get his vessel back. “I have been constantly mailing the Indian Navy about my vessel over the last 20 days,” he claimed.

An Indian Navy spokesperson in Mumbai said: “We don’t agree with what Robert James is claiming. He is making a false statement.”

Asked why the weapons were left on Lady Han and not picked up before evacuation, James blamed it on officials. “The Omani authorities did not help us at all,” he alleged.

Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who also holds the Home portfolio, told the Assembly: “As of now, there is no terror angle. But investigation is going on. We can’t rule out any angle as of now. I am just sharing primary information.”

Fadnavis identified Australian national Hana Laundergun as the owner of the yacht and James, her husband, as its captain.

He said the yacht was on its way from Muscat when it drifted away owing to inclement weather.

James told The Indian Express that the arms and ammunition on the vessel were legal and were for security purposes as they had to pass through Somali waters.

“The weapons were completely legal and accounted for.”

Sources in the shipping sector say that most ships carry arms to ward off pirates from Somalia.

Coast Guard Director General Pathania told The Indian Express: “The commander of Coast Guard (west) Paramesh Sivamani has informed me that they have also spoken to the master of the vessel. They were carrying weapons for their security. The weapons found on this vessel have been accounted for by Neptune Maritime Security which provides security to all vessels. We have ruled out a terror angle.”



 





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