A diving crew from Tarpon Springs that has been held in a Honduran jail on firearms charges could be home soon, according to a A Pinellas County congressman.
U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., heard Honduran officials told a top Central American foreign policy adviser to Vice President Joe Biden that the six detainees would be released this week. The congressman is trying to confirm directly the information with Biden.
"I am cautiously optimistic," Bilirakas said. He believes the men are innocent because they showed their guns to the Honduran navy and they were allowed to move forward with their mission.
"I plan to meet with the Honduran ambassador this week before they are released to demand that my constituents come home, their families are waiting for them," Bilirakis said.
Family members have been waiting for the men to return for 44 days. They were arrested on May 5 h in their U.S.-flagged ship. They were with a company called Aqua Quest International and were on a business trip to train a local tribe how to scuba dive and salvage mahogany logs from rivers to ease flooding.
The Aqua Quest website said their voyage in this message: "On the afternoon of May 5th, 2014 the US flagged vessel Aqua Quest was looking to enter the docks near a small town of Puerto Lempira in Honduras. They were eager to start a cooperative project with the Municipality of Ahuas and Miskito Indians. They were to begin work clearing logs and debris from the rivers that connect the communities of Ahuas and provide the opportunity for financial independence to the local residents by the creation of many jobs. Proceeds from this project are to be shared with the local municipality to fund various projects to improve the community. These projects include a workshop for disabled spiny lobster divers to sculpt wooden toys and crafts, organic farms, road improvements, a women's shelter, and a municipal fresh water system. In addition, proper equipment and training will be provided to the local spiny lobster divers to minimize the risk of the tragic and preventable occurrence of decompression sickness commonly known as the bends. This invitation was accredited through official documents with the testimony of the municipal official Rudy Charles Barrow Stochshausen rendered before the A Quo at the initial hearing. While docking, they were detained. After a hearing, eight days later, the men were further detained on the false firearms charges.
"At a hearing May 13, the men were ordered to be further illegally detained for the false firearms charges. The boat was placed in the custody of the Honduran Navy."
Steve Matanich is one of the men detained, and lives in Tarpon Springs with his fiancé, Sarah Montgomery, and his family.
Every time the phone rings, Montgomery tries not to get her hopes up, but Monday's call from Bilirakis gave her some hope.
"I was excited but I didn't want to get too excited because we have heard it before," she said. "It sounds the most promising since it did come from the vice president."
Relatives of the men -- Matanich, Devon Butler, Nick Cook, Kelly Grant and brothers Michael and Robert Mayne -- are raising money for their food and shelter in the Honduran jail.
To help, go to the Go Fund Me fundraising website.