Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Mystery Surrounds Detention of Seized Anti-Piracy Vessel as Financial Appeal Launched

Lawyers Dismissed Whilst Thirty Five Strong Crew Await Bail Hearing
Shipping News Feature

UK – INDIA – US – Yesterday the families of six British ex-military personnel incarcerated in India, presented a petition with 145,000 signatures at 10, Downing Street asking that Prime Minister to act on their behalf. Confusion still reigns over the precise facts surrounding the detention of the MV Seaman Guard Ohio and its crew for over five months after she was boarded when returning from an anti-piracy patrol in the Indian Ocean. The petition calls upon the Foreign Secretary, William Hague and the government to bring pressure upon the Indian authorities to act whilst an appeal to help provide the men with proper legal representation has been launched.

Altogether thirty five seafarers have been detained and on Tuesday (17 March) the bail hearing set for that day was again deferred until tomorrow (20 March) at this point (late on the 17th) the families announced that the British lawyers representing the men had been dismissed, apparently by the vessel’s owners, Virginia based AdvanFort. The Mission to Seafarers, global maritime charity is now in touch with the Indian legal team and are trying to get clarity around what this might mean for the men.

It was some time before formal charges were even presented and these now include firearms offences and illegally entering Indian territorial waters. The families are being supported by the Mission to Seafarers which is now to help with the administration of a fighting fund via the JustGiving website. Secretary General of The Mission to Seafarers, the Revd Andrew Wright, said:

“This has been a deeply traumatic experience for everyone involved here at home and in India. There have been conflicting stories about what has happened all the way along, but we do know that the ship and crew had just come off duty protecting merchant shipping in the Gulf.

“The dangers of modern day piracy are very real, and more and more shipping companies are recruiting their own security vessels to protect them. We call again upon the Indian government to act swiftly in this matter, and for the government here to take notice of the petition that shows clearly that the British people want them to do more.

“These men have now been held for over five months and these issues need urgent resolution. We have set up a mechanism to enable families to fundraise in support of the imprisoned men. The Mission to Seafarers has been closely involved with both the crew and their families throughout this long ordeal and we will continue to do all that we can in support. Any donation made to the fund will be used in direct aid to the imprisoned crew across a range of areas, including adequate medical provision, food and water, clothing and counselling. Other needs may become urgent as matters progress. Any funds raised over and above what is needed in India will be used to further the welfare work of Mission to Seafarers across the world.”

The men being held also include Estonians, Ukrainians and Indians and the owners of the detained ship, US security group AdvanFort says it has spent ‘millions of dollars’ fighting to have the crew released ‘behind the scenes’ and was aware that many groups around the world have appealed to the Indian government, and simultaneously to the UK government to use political influence to free them. Thursday’s court appearance will be the fourth time the men have appeared to request bail.

The company says that the thirty five maritime guards were arrested after attempting to fuel their ship from a reputable agent ship in Indian waters. Charges were filed in January, more than 90 days after the arrest and AdvanFort says it intends to quash the charges with acting President, Al Farajalla, who replaced former President William Watson who quit in November 2013, saying:

"AdvanFort would like to thank the hundreds of thousands of people who have come out in support of the release of our guards. We have not stopped working for one single day, and we will not stop working until the guards are back home where they belong.”

Photo: The detained crew wearing uniforms bearing the AdvanFort logo being transferred to Puzhal Central Prison, near Chennai last October.