The crew of the Aqua Quest International, an underwater salvage company based in Tarpon Springs, is finally heading home after being held in Honduras for 52 days, accused of smuggling guns into the country.
A Honduran appeals court of three judges in Le Ceiba found them not guilty and dismissed all charges earlier this week.
Captain Robert Mayne said the same judge who initially held them on the gun charges signed off on their release Thursday afternoon.
"Their legal system worked. It got us out. We were found completely not guilty,” Mayne said. “It was declared an illegal detention. They completely dropped all charges."
The crew of six men, five of which call Tarpon Springs home, immediately boarded their boat and were escorted out into international waters. Mayne said they did not want to spend any more time in Honduras, in fear they could have been apprehended again.
"They were threatening us with ten to 12 years in prison," Mayne said. "The prosecutor is extremely upset about us being released. They're dangerous people."
The men left Tarpon Springs May 1 on a business trip tens of thousands of dollars in the making to Ahuas, Honduras. They were to work on coastal zone management, dredge a river, and start developing a water processing plant for the small community.
When they arrived to Puerto Lempira, law enforcement boarded their boat, detained six crew members and accused them of smuggling guns into Honduras.
Admittedly, there were several weapons on board: Two hand guns, two shotguns and an M70ab2, which looks like an AK-47. But the crew justified the weapons, saying they were for protection as they journeyed across the pirate-infested waters of the southern Gulf of Mexico.
When Mayne first spoke to FOX13 in early June, he said they refused to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits businesses from paying bribes to government officials in other countries.
"What we believe happened is that they saw an opportunity. They saw a wealthy boat of Americans, and they pounced on us," Mayne said in June 5.
Thursday afternoon, Mayne spelled it out a bit more clearly saying, "We were kidnapped and extorted. We're extremely fortunate that there was an intelligent appellate court that returned a unanimous decision to release us and dismiss all of the charges."
Mayne described the conditions inside the jail as horrible. He said the first night, he was in a jail cell 12-feet wide by 12-feet deep with 15 other inmates and no bathroom.
Their 52-day stay inside that Honduran jail was a bit more comfortable thanks to a missionary based out of Sebring, FL.
Roger Engle helped them throughout their imprisonment by bringing food to supplement the meager meals of rice and beans they were getting.
"They got their guns back, they got their bullets back, and they're coming home," Engle said.
Mayne thanked the media, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, U.S. Congressmen Gus Bilirakis and Mike Fitzpatrick, and U.S. Embassy officials in Honduras for working together to get them out.
Capt. Robert Mayne Jr., his brother Michael, Nick Cook, Devon Butler, Kelly Garrett and Steve Matanich are expected back to their dock in Tarpon Springs Tuesday.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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