CARACAS - Venezuela has dropped weapons charges against the American captain of a US-flagged cargo ship arrested last week after three rifles were found on board, people familiar with the latest diplomatic rumpus between Washington and Caracas said.

Authorities suspecting the vessel of arms trafficking put 14 crew members under armed guard at the rear of the vessel, the Ocean Atlas, while the captain was taken on land for questioning.

"The charges have been dropped," said Mark Miller, spokesman for the ship's Florida-based management company Crowley Maritime .

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