Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Indian Court Denies Seafaring Anti Pirate Team Bail as Case Drags On

Multinational Crew Still Face an Uncertain Future
Shipping News Feature
INDIA – For those supporting it, the situation of the Seaman Guard Ohio crew took a turn for the worse this week (see previous stories*), after the Madras High Court Bench refused to suspend the five-year prison sentences imposed by the Thoothukudi Principal Sessions Court last month on the 35 crew members found guilty of illegally entering Indian territorial waters with unauthorised weapons and ammunition. The Court also refused the conditional bail granted by the lower court ahead of an appeal against their sentences, scheduled to be heard later this year on June 1. The men will remain in jail until the hearing.

The judge, Justice V.S. Ravi, said he was not inclined to grant the relief in view of the grave charges levelled against the men, vehement objections raised by ‘Q’ branch- Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and also because 23 of the crew happened to be foreigners.

The Sierra Leone-flagged ship owned by AdvanFort, a US based company that provided private maritime security services and had, at the time of the arrest, been a member of the international Security Association for the Maritime Industry (SAMI), was intercepted by Indian Coast Guard ship Naikidevi on October 12, 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.

The Seaman Guard Ohio was involved in supporting anti-piracy operations by providing armed escort services to commercial vessels travelling in, what were then, quite literally the pirate-infested waters in the Indian Ocean. The crew have pleaded their innocence, denying any wrongdoing and claiming that they have been abandoned by their employers.

Legal support in India is being provided through the ITF Union to the vessel’s crew, but according to Human Rights at Sea, it is understood that this support 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.”

*As with any of our stories to follow the time line, simply type a suitable keyword (in this case such as AdvanFort) into the News Search box at the head of any page and start reading from the earliest article.

Photo: The crew remain under very heavy guard whenever they are moved.