Sailor stuck in Honduran jail is Doylestown native

PHOTOS: MICHAEL McCABE / FOR THE DAILY NEWS Devon Butler (center) , 27, with the Florida-based crew that was accused of smuggling guns into the country. The crew's supporters say the ship had five weapons aboard to protect against pirates.
PHOTOS: MICHAEL McCABE / FOR THE DAILY NEWS Devon Butler (center) , 27, with the Florida-based crew that was accused of smuggling guns into the country. The crew's supporters say the ship had five weapons aboard to protect against pirates.
Posted: June 04, 2014

FOR THE PAST five years, Doylestown native Devon Butler has sailed the seas, exploring shipwrecks, helping scientists assess oil-spill damages, excavating sunken cargo - whatever enabled him to indulge his passion for diving.

His mother, Rosemary Carroll, worried occasionally about pirates, storms and diving accidents but didn't dwell on the dangers of her son's profession, lest her concerns consume her.

Still, she never imagined the predicament Butler, 27, now endures: Police in Honduras hurled him and five crewmates into a dilapidated coastal jail on May 5, claiming that they were smuggling guns into the poor, crime-plagued Central American country.

They have remained there since, despite the efforts of many lawyers, politicians and other supporters to free them.

The saga started May 1, when Butler and his crewmates from Florida-based Aqua Quest International sailed to Honduras to salvage valuable mahogany logs at the bottom of a river, said Stephen Mayne, whose jailed brother Bob is the boat's captain.

Part of their mission was humanitarian, Carroll added. Removing the logs would help stop flooding and improve farming conditions in the rural town of Ahuas, she said.

Further, the Aqua Quest crew planned to train local lobster divers, most of whom are indigenous Miskito Indians with little or no formal dive training. So many get injured that Aqua Quest aimed to share its profits to fund new housing for injured divers, Carroll said.

The crew kept five guns on the 65-foot boat to protect against pirates, Carroll said. The weapons were legally permitted in compliance with international maritime law, she added.

The crew broke no laws, Stephen Mayne agreed.

As they sailed near Puerto Lempira on the Mosquito Coast, the Honduran navy intercepted them and arrested them, saying they didn't have the government's permission to bring the weapons into Honduras. Stephen Mayne, though, insisted that the firearms never left the boat - and that Bob Mayne had alerted Honduran authorities of their plans a month earlier.

The crew's supporters have hired lawyers and gotten help from the U.S. Embassy in Honduras, as well as lawmakers like U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Bucks, who represents the congressional district where Carroll lives.

"These Americans were invited by a local Honduran government as part of a humanitarian mission," Fitzpatrick said yesterday. "Despite the trials of safety and comfort, Americans continually answer the call to serve others across the globe. For the Americans and their families involved who have endured considerable anguish, I will continue to work for their swift release and respectfully ask the Honduran government to act with urgency."

Supporters fear the men could languish longer in the decrepit jail because of rampant corruption. Honduras has "one of the most corrupt and mistrusted police forces in Latin America," according to InSight Crime. And jails are overcrowded and violent, with poor nutrition and sanitation, according to Human Rights Watch.

"We spent the first two weeks hoping that this misunderstanding would be worked out, but our fears have been growing," said Butler's cousin, Michael Carroll, of Chalfont. "The conditions there are rough, and there is not a clear end in sight. We are getting very worried."


On Twitter: @DanaDiFilippo

Blog: phillyconfidential.com

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