- The crew of the Aqua Quest arrives in Tarpon Springs, Florida, on Wednesday
- Contracted to do salvage work, they were imprisoned on weapons smuggling charges
- Owner of salvage company said crew had weapons for protection on high seas
Six Americans imprisoned in Honduras for more than a month on weapons smuggling charges are back home after sailing their ship from the Central American country to their home port in Florida.
The crew of the Aqua Quest arrived in Tarpon Springs, Florida, on Wednesday after a voyage on stormy seas that delayed their return home by a day. As their boat sailed into the marina, they were met by family, friends and U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis of Florida.
"They're thrilled to be back in the states, surrounded by family and friends," said Stephen Mayne, owner of Aqua Quest International, a salvage and treasure hunting company. "They are looking forward to taking some time off, then regrouping to work on new projects."
The captain of the ship, Robert Mayne -- Stephen's brother -- called it "an overwhelming day."
"It's like waking up from a really bad nightmare," he said.
The Americans sailed to Honduras in May at the invitation of officials in the country's eastern municipality of Ahuas. They were tasked with removing valuable mahogany logs from a nearby riverbed, remnants of decades of logging.
Profits from the sale of the recovered logs would be split between Aqua Quest and the municipality for use for social projects there.
But the project was halted before it could really begin with their arrest on May 5 after Honduran authorities boarded their ship and discovered two handguns, two shotguns and a semiautomatic rifle. A judge and prosecutor in Ahuas accused the crew of attempting to smuggle weapons into the country for resale.
The crew, however, were adamant that their weapons were for personal use and not for resale on the black market.
Honduras is mired in drug and gang activity that has resulted in a sharp spike in gun-related deaths in recent years. Illegal arms regularly flow through the country, as drug traffickers transit cocaine from Colombia through the Central American country.
Robert Mayne told CNN last month by cell phone from the prison that the weapons were for protection against piracy while at sea. He said that he and his crew always bring them when traveling in international waters. The captain said he even once had to brandish a handgun to ward out would-be pirates off the coast of Mexico.
"Everyone tells us this would never happen in any other port in Honduras," he said earlier this month, expressing his frustration with the judge's and state prosecutor's interpretation of the law. "We have the right to do it (carry arms) for protection on the high seas."
The charges were dropped against the men last week after they spent more than a month in a rural prison camp. They faced potential sentences of up to 16 years if convicted on the weapons smuggling charges.
Hoping to rid themselves of the bad fortune their weapons brought them on their latest adventure, the crew voted to "bury them as sea," according to Stephen Mayne, once they entered U.S. waters, tossing the firearms overboard.
"They said goodbye to their little friends," said Mayne laughing. "We decided to just turn them over to King Neptune."
Despite the run-in with authorities, Mayne said his company would continue to work with Honduras on the log retrieval project, though they would likely not return by sea.
"We are going to go forward with this project," said Mayne. "We made a commitment to he community of Ahuas.
"We won't let this incident stop us."