Human Rights at Sea comments on the latest developments in the ongoing matter of the detained crew of the former U.S.-owned anti-piracy vessel, the MV Seaman Guard Ohio.
It is with regret that the charity reports that yesterday, the Madras High Court Bench refused to suspend the five-year sentences imposed by the Thoothukudi Principal Sessions Court on 11 January 2016 on six British nationals, 14 Estonians, three Ukranians and 12 Indians. It has also refused the conditional bail granted by the lower court ahead of an appeal against their sentences.
The judge, Justice V.S. Ravi, said he was not inclined to grant the relief in view of the grave charges leveled against the convicts, vehement objections raised by ‘Q’ branch- Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and also because 23 of the convicts happened to be foreigners.
The Sierra Leone-flagged ship owned by AdvanFort, a U.S.-based company, was intercepted by Indian Coast Guard ship ‘Naikidevi’ on 12 October 2013 and escorted to Chidambaranar Port in Tuticorin. The vessel was variously assessed to be inside Indian Territorial Waters east off Tuticorin following an alleged tip-off that the vessel carried arms.
Judicial Magistrate-I CKathiravan had granted conditional bail after the crew argued that the Q branch had failed to file the charge sheet even after 60 days of their arrest.
On 26th December 2015, Chief Judicial Magistrate K Venkatasamy stayed the bail granted by Magistrate Kathiravan. It is reported that he held the granting of bail was `flawed`and that it went against orders of higher courts, including Supreme Court, referring that the incident posed a threat to national security as previously asserted by Q’ Branch CID which investigated the case.
A final appeal is scheduled to be heard on 1 June 2016 while the crew remains in jail.
Legal support in India is being provided through the ITF Union to the vessel’s crew, but which is understood has not been extended to the Private Maritime Security Guards despite six British Guards being issued with Seaman’s Books as evidenced in Indian court documents.
Human Rights at Sea CEO, David Hammond, commented: “This is yet another blow to the families of the vessel’s crew and security guards, though our charity sees them as one body of seafarers caught in the Indian judicial system. We have always supported the rights of these men to lawfully challenge the facts of the case, the charges laid against them and now to appeal their sentences. We will continue to support their position alongside other key maritime organisations and charities pressing for justice and their release.”