A former Royal Navy officer from the Westcountry suspected of setting sail to fight pirates has been arrested in Senegal after escaping detention in a Spanish port in a converted warship.
Chris Enmarch, from Penryn, and crew member Andrew Bayliss, from Saltash, were among a group detained by commandos off the African coast, it has emerged.
Their fast attack gun boat, which boasts two cannons, had been escorted by a Spanish naval ship to Tenerife’s Santa Cruz port after sailing from Pendennis Point, on April 16.
An inspection by the Spanish authorities found no working guns or ammunition on the 127ft Defender, which is registered as a yacht.
Enmarch, who bought the ship in 2011, was fined 40,000 euros as waste systems did not meet standards set for pleasure vessels.
He has previously insisted the armaments on board Defender were “just for show”, saying: “We are not mercenaries.”
The ship’s British pendant was removed and it was placed under the custody of armed Civil Guards, but in the early hours of May 31, while the guards were called away, the Defender left ‚Äì with the fine allegedly outstanding.
Five days later, the former gunship was intercepted in Senegalese waters and boarded by marine commandos.
Colonel Abdou Thiam, director of the Senegal Army’s press division DIRPA, told local media on Monday that the ship was being held in Dakar and four British former members of the armed forces had been arrested.
Enmarch, 53, and Bayliss were among the arrested men, a source said.
Colonel Diop, of DIRPA, said yesterday the ship had been detained over suspected “illegal activity”.
The Senegalese authorities would not disclose further details of the ongoing inquiry.
An FCO spokesman said: “We are aware of the arrest of four British Nationals in Senegal. We stand ready to provide consular assistance.”
In late April, Enmarch told The Times that the Defender was going to Senegal “to discuss with the authorities the possible use of the Defender as a deterrent against illegal fishing boats.”
The Times also reported that a friend of Enmarch posted photographs of the Defender on the internet. “It is now in service again for a private security company in the Gulf of Oman, with Chrissy as captain,” he wrote. “I refused work as a gunner due to my present situation.”
On May 20 Bayliss wrote on Facebook: “Chris signs contract tomrw”. He added: “If good we sail to Lagos, if bad Senegal with 2 knackered guns”.
The Defender, no longer registered on the UK Ships Register, weighs 135 tons. She was built in Lowestoft in the mid-1970s for the Sultan of Oman’s navy in the Gulf.
According to a Spanish report the Defender was headed for Lagos, Nigeria, and the pirate-infested Gulf of Guinea when she first stopped in Tenerife over an engine problem. After being forced to dock for emergency repairs, Mr Enmarch said Spanish authorities were making a “fuss about nothing” as the cannons on his boat were “totally unusable”. But maritime authorities took a different view and, citing “irregularities in the paperwork”, noting that it was registered as a pleasure craft, refused the skipper permission to sail.
Enmarch had been described as the owner of the Islington Boat Yard in Penryn, but it emerged that he was a manager, before leaving in December.