A BRITISH seaman, Paul Towers, who has been trapped in India with his colleagues for nearly two years is “devastated” that their legal case will continue for many more months.
Mr Towers and 34 other crew members have spent 21 months in prison and on bail in India after their patrol ship, the MV Seaman Guard Ohio, was detained by the authorities in October 2013 (News, 22 May).
After the dismissal of the case against them last July, Mr Towers and his colleagues, who have been supported by the Mission to Seafarers, were expecting to be allowed to return home. But, after a prosecution appeal, their case is to go to trial.
“Obviously . . . we were devastated to hear that the Supreme Court has upheld the prosecution appeal,” Mr Towers said. “Our families are beyond broken, both financially and mentally; to see my wife in tears is heart-breaking.”
The MV Seaman Guard Ohio was conducting anti-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean on behalf of a private United States firm, when it was intercepted by the coastguard off the Tamil Nadu coast. All 35 sailors were arrested and accused of illegally carrying guns into Indian territorial waters.
Since then, the men have been in legal limbo. Their case was quashed by the High Court in Madurai last July, but, while the prosecution appealed against that decision, their passports were confiscated.
Mr Towers said that, without the support of the Mission to Seafarers and other charities in the UK, he and his colleagues would have ended up sleeping in the streets. “I cannot express any further the pain and agony this has caused to our families and friends who have supported us throughout this protracted nightmare,” he said.
The seamen have always denied that they strayed into Indian waters. Mr Towers said that the British contractors on board, who are all former members of the armed forces, carried “world-recognised credentials” for their firearms.
A report in March from the advocacy group Human Rights at Sea found that the men’s “continued unlawful detention and distress at the hands of the Indian authorities” was a violation of international human-rights law and the Constitution of India.
One sailor quoted in the report explained that during their detention some of the men had lost their wives and their homes had been repossessed. “This existence cannot be sustained indefinitely,” the seaman said.
The Mission to Seafarers is appealing to the Foreign Office for urgent diplomatic intervention in the sailors’ case.