(CNN) – Six Americans who were salvaging goods from the bottom of the sea off the coast of Honduras have sat in a jail there for over three weeks as officials have charged them with illegal weapons possession.
On May 5, after the ship pulled into port in Puerto Lempira, police came aboard, arrested the crew and confiscated the vessel, according to a Facebook statement from Aqua Quest, the Florida company the men work for.
The ship’s captain said from jail that the weapons on board were for personal protection against pirates.
“It’s suicide not to carry them,” said Robert Mayne, one of the detained Americans.
Michael McCabe, a crew member who was not detained, said the men do not have access to good sanitation and are not being properly fed.
“The inmates only ever eat beans and rice. I’m told it’s one spoon of each, and that’s it,” he said after visiting them.
Aqua Quest alleges in its statement that authorities boarding and searching the ship circumvented proper legal procedures. The company said Honduran officials had the legal possibility of dealing with the weapons without imposing detentions.
The official charge is illegal possession of firearms detrimental to the internal security of Honduras, according to a court document. The caliber of the weapons and the fact that one is semiautomatic also seems to bother authorities, who have termed them “commercial.”
A lawyer in Honduras familiar with the case says the men could face up to 16 years in prison.
U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pennsylvania, has attempted to intervene on the men’s behalf.
“I have been working with American officials and other contacts to expedite the detainees’ release. I have formally written to the Honduran Ambassador to the United States requesting his personal engagement to swiftly resolve the situation,” he said in a statement.
Aqua Quest salvages precious cargo from sunken vessels,according to its website. That can range from valuable ore to historic artifacts.
Its team was in Honduras for a project in cooperation with a local town, the company said.