MIAMI (AP) — Six U.S. men detained for weeks in Honduras were working on a project to aid local lobster divers, associates said Saturday, and they deny violating weapons laws by failing to declare a gun.
The crew from Aqua Quest International has been held at a prison in Puerto Lempira in that Central American country since May 5, when Honduran police and Navy personnel raided their newly arrived 65-foot vessel and found a weapon, according to a news release from the shipwreck salvage and research company based in Tarpon Springs, Florida.
"We initially thought it would be over as fast as it started because they broke no laws," said Stephen Mayne, brother of the company's president, Robert Mayne, who is one of those held.
"There's been a lot of work behind the scenes to secure their release, and we thought it would be best to go through the proper channels. And after all this time, when it didn't seem to be going anywhere, we decided to take a different approach" by making a more public appeal, he told The Associated Press.
The U.S. State Department has confirmed the men's detention earlier.
Calls to Honduran prosecutors have gone unanswered and Honduran Navy officials declined to comment Saturday.
The company says it was working on a project with aid workers and officials the town of Ahuas to help local lobster divers, who can suffer permanent damage from dives as deep as 150 feet (45 meters).
"Ultimately the projects were going to provide some real opportunities, through flood abatement, for the local spiny lobster divers," Mayne said.
Ahuas is a Miskito Indian town in an impoverished Honduran region often exploited by drug traffickers. The area has been targeted by joint U.S.-Honduran anti-drug missions, though Stephen Mayne insisted none of the crew was involved in trafficking.
Filmmaker Michael McCabe, who has been working with Aqua Quest and was on the boat at the time of the raid, said "the complaint is just that they basically had weapons and didn't have permission."
The company acknowledged that the ship did have weapons aboard for protection at sea, but officials deny they failed to properly report them to port officials when they arrived.
McCabe, who was allowed to leave Honduras, said he wasn't sure how many weapons were on board, but he believes there were fewer than six.
"The captain, off the Yucatan, has had to deal with people trying to board the boat. He's had experience with pirates. The only thing that will hold them off is if they see weapons," he said by telephone from New York.
In addition to Robert Mayne, those detained include Michael Mayne, Nick Cook, Devon Butler, Kelly Garrett and Steve Matanich.
The company says on its website that in addition to salvage work, it carries out scientific investigation and documentation of sites.
AP Writer John Rice in Mexico City contributed to this report.