TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras, June 3 (UPI) -- Six Americans have been detained in a Honduran prison for nearly a month after authorities charged them with illegal weapons possession.
On May 5, their ship docked in Puerto Lempira, where police then boarded the ship, arrested the crew, and confiscated the vessel.
The crew are members of an Aqua Quest International team that had traveled to Honduras to salvage goods from the bottom of the ocean. Both the ship's captain and Aqua Quest maintain that the weapons aboard their ship were for personal protection from pirates and were not for resale.
If found guilty, the crew could face up to 16 years in prison.
Robert "Bob" Mayne, one of the six detained and the ship's captain, explained in a phone interview the importance of self-defense in their line of work: "It's suicide not to carry them."
The crew members are being held in what has been described as austere and unsafe prison conditions.
Colleague Michael McCabe, who was not detained, visited his imprisoned colleagues and reported they are not being fed properly. "The inmates only ever eat beans and rice. I'm told it's one spoon of each, and that's it."
The ship's captain said he is concerned for their safety at the prison, where "Fighting breaks out every few days here," and on Friday, he said, gunfire erupted.
The U.S. Department of State said its embassy in Tegucigalpa is monitoring the case and that consular staff visited the crew on May 19. "... there is no greater priority for us than the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad," State Department spokesman Noel Clay said Saturday.
U.S. Representative Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA) is attempting to help facilitate the crew's release by "working with American officials and other contacts," and writing "to the Honduran Ambassador to the United States requesting his personal engagement to swiftly resolve the situation."
Supporters of the detained American treasure hunting crew began a social media campaign with the hash-tag #FreeSailorBob.
Florida-based Aqua Quest International is a private, for-profit corporation that describes itself as "dedicated to the search for, and archeological recovery of the world's lost shipwreck resources, wherever these shipwrecks might be found."