The head of an Estonian maritime security company has spoken out in support of the industry in the wake of a US company and its partly Estonian crew falling afoul of authorities in South Asia.
The US-based company, Advanfort, had received negative coverage in the Estonian media for years before the 14 Estonians were detained in India last fall on arms charges. There is some resentment that the company is luring away Defense Forces professionals with offers of better pay. But ESC Global Security director Jaanus Rahumägi says the shady image is unfair.
"What bothers me is that when negative news comes from out of that sector, there is an impression that it is some sort of grey zone or semi-legal situation. It is not like that at all. It is an extremely precisely regulated field," he told ETV.
The business is legitimate, even noble, Rahumägi said, but fraught with clashes with competing interests.
"In the year [directly preceding the Indian arrests], this company has had a whole string of conflicts with government of Sri Lanka and the Maldives and they were similar to the ones that ended in the impounding of the ship in India. It is one one hand the result of the company's policy and also of the captain's actions," said Rahumägi.
Advanfort's lawyer Stephen Askins told ETV on Tuesday that the Sri Lanka case was a classic business dispute between AdvanFort and a Sri Lankan company, Avant Garde, and there was no violation of law.
"They were particularly concerned," said Askins, "that it would be used to look after third-party weapons. There is a lot of money being made by Sri Lanka transporting and transferring weapons to and from ships, it costs about $6,000 per ship, and it's worth a lot of money. I think that at some point Advanfort was asked to provide a $1 million bond, like a security that their vessel would not be used by third parties. Understandably they refused to do that."
The pirate hunters on the Advanfort ship in the Indian case, the Seaman Guard Ohio, have been in what seems like legal limbo. Arrested in October, they were read formal charges in December and are still behind bars.
In Advanfort's case, India has had cases where anti-piracy crews have fled the country after being released on bail. That could be the reason why authorities in Tamil Nadu are taking such a tough line on pre-trial detention for the 14 Estonian crew members, Rahumägi said.
Advanfort is currently waiting for a copy of the charge sheet, said Askins, "so they can see what is being said against each individual. We are then hoping to get clear advice from Indian lawyers on the best way forward."