THE Mission to Seafarers has said it is “beyond belief” that a court in India has sentenced 35 seamen, five of whom are British, to five years in prison.
The crew of the MV Seaman Guard Ohio were found guilty by a Tamil Nadu court on charges of illegally entering Indian waters with firearms. The men, who were employed by an American private security firm to guard international shipping from pirates, have denied breaking any laws.
The Mission to Seafarers’ director of justice and public affairs, Ken Peters, said: “I am horrified and filled with anguish at this decision which is deeply unfair and unjust. The men carried arms in accordance with international maritime law for the purpose of ensuring the merchant fleet was protected properly from the very real risk of pirate attacks and hijack. The men have already suffered so much; [so] this terrible outcome is beyond belief.”
The Seaman Guard Ohio was intercepted by the Indian authorities in 2013 and its crew have been stranded in India in legal limbo ever since. Their case was initially dismissed in 2014, but the prosecution appealed against that decision (News, 17 July). Last March, a report from the advocacy group Human Rights at Sea suggested that the actions of the Indian authorities had violated not only international human rights law, but also the Constitution of India.
One unnamed sailor in the report explained that during their detention some of the men had lost their wives, their homes had been repossessed, and family members had died. “Our families face financial ruin,” the sailor said. “This existence cannot be sustained indefinitely.” The men’s lawyers are considering an appeal.