By Barbara Liston
ORLANDO Fla. (Reuters) - The crew of a Florida-based shipwreck salvage company has been held for a month in a Honduras jail after authorities accused them of gun smuggling, a company spokesman said on Thursday.
Stephen Mayne of the Tarpon Springs-based Aqua Quest International said the company had a contract with a local municipality to do salvage work. Mayne said the company told port officials in advance they would be carrying guns for protection against pirates.
"We didn't just show up out of the blue. This was all pre-arranged," Mayne said.
Coronel Antonio Sanchez, a spokesman for the Honduran armed forces, said the crew was arrested because they did not have permits to possess guns in the country.
"In Honduras, you can't carry guns without the appropriate documents," Sanchez said.
Mayne is the brother of the ship's captain Robert Mayne, 60, who was one of six men working on board the 65-foot (20-meter) salvage ship which pulled into port at Puerto Lempira, Honduras on May 5.
Mayne said the port captain told the crew members he would process their paperwork, which would include declaring and confiscating the guns the next morning.
However, local authorities boarded the ship overnight and arrested the crew over the objections of the port captain, Mayne said.
"They are in harm's way," said Mayne who described the jail as mosquito-infested.
Mayne said Aqua Quest was solicited by the Honduran government to do business in the country at a 2011 "Honduras is Open for Business" economic conference in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.
The contract with the municipality of Ahuas in cooperation with local Indian tribes was to be Aqua Quest's first project in Honduras, he said. The job was to remove logs that were blocking boat access to local island villages.
Mayne said the five seized guns included two handguns, two shotguns and one semi-automatic sportsman's rifle. Mayne said a Honduran prosecutor called the semi-automatic an "AK-47." Mayne said the weapon is a Century Arms M70.
Aqua Quest describes itself as an ocean exploration and archaeological recovery company. Other jailed crewmen include another Mayne brother, Michael, 57, and four employees ages 26 through 53.
(Additional reporting by Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa; Editing by Kevin Gray and Sandra Maler)