TARPON SPRINGS — The six-man crew of a Tarpon Springs-based shipwreck and salvage company detained in Honduras for almost two months were set to return earlier this week.
Stephen Mayne, the brother and Aqua Quest International business partner of two of the detained crew members, believed the men were due to arrive in Florida by Tuesday evening. That arrival eventually came Wednesday morning.
The crew members, once home, will rest for a bit and then get back to work, Maynes said.
The good news came last Thursday, when Mayne received a call from his brother saying the Aqua Quest crew was “out,” Stephen Mayne said in an interview Friday. “It was a pretty happy call, for sure.”
In addition to Bob Mayne, the Aqua Quest crew consisted of James Kelly Garrett, Devon Butler, Nick Cook, Steve Matanich and Michael Mayne.
A Honduran appeals court ordered the men’s release by a 3-0 decision on June 20, but the decision was not complied with until June 26, Stephen Mayne said.
The crew’s ordeal began after Honduran police and sailors raided the newly arrived 65-foot Aqua Quest and found a weapon, according to the shipwreck salvage and research company. All six men were then put in a prison in Puerto Lempira on May 5.
Stephen Mayne said the crew’s objective in Honduras was to aid local lobster divers, many of whom have been injured with the bends over the years. “It’s 100-percent preventable with the proper equipment and training.”
Mayne said that he had sporadic phone contact with his brother while Bob was in custody, and that while the crew’s innocence was never in doubt, a feeling of uncertainty surrounded the incident.
“We had 100 percent confidence that the guys were on the right side of the law and that there were no laws broken,” Mayne said. “But you never know when you’re in somebody else’s legal system; the law sometimes doesn’t always matter.”
A number of national and state politicians, including U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Lisa Kubiske helped secure the crew’s release. Aqua Quest International released an official statement last Thursday that gave special thanks to U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., and his staff “who latched onto this like a pit bull for justice since day one.”
Fitzpatrick represents an area just northeast of Philadelphia that, according to an email from the representative’s office, is home to Aqua Quest crewman Devon Butler.
Fitzpatrick was in Honduras June 22, 23 and 24 visiting with the men and lobby for their release. In a statement posted on Fitzpatrick’s congressional website, he described the crew’s detention conditions as “deplorable.”
Despite the unexpected incarceration, Stephen Mayne said, Aqua Quest fully intends on returning to Honduras to complete its original mission.
“We’re not giving up on this project,” he said. “We’re going to see this project through.”
In addition to the return trip to Honduras, Mayne said, the company is ready to get to work on a potentially huge salvage project in the volatile South China Sea. The region has made frequent international headlines over the past five-plus years because of ongoing territorial disputes between a host of nations in the region, including China, Taiwan, Indonesia and the Phillipines.
“There’s one project in particular,” Mayne said. “There are three shipwrecks in the South China Sea that we have some solid research on and the value could be up to three times that of Mel Fisher’s Atocha,” he said. The value of the treasure Key West-based Fisher’s company found aboard the 17th century Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora de Atocha in 1985 was estimnated at $450 million.
A deserved buffer period to decompress is certainly on deck prior to the next job, though, Mayne said.
“Right now we’re going to spend some time with our families and regroup.”
“But we’re still going forward.”