THE Mission to Seafarers has expressed relief and delight after the successful appeal by 35 men against their five-year Indian prison sentences.
The men, who include six British ex-servicemen, were found guilty by a court in Tamil Nadu last year 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 (News, 15 January 2016).
On Tuesday, four years after their ordeal began, the men were released from prison in Chennai after they won an appeal against the convictions.
The Mission to Seafarers has been providing counselling, advice, and financial support since the day after the men were arrested in 2013.
The charity’s director of advocacy, Ben Bailey, said: “Today is a day that we have long campaigned for. What matters now is that the crew must be given space to be reunited with their loved ones, and the Mission will be supporting them through that process as we have from the start.
“We are liaising with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to make available a team of highly trained counsellors, as well as arranging accommodation and flights home.”
Yvonne McHugh, the partner of one of the British men, told the BBC that she was overwhelmed when she heard the news direct from her partner on the phone. “He just said, hello, and I screamed down the phone. Then he just said ‘I’m out’. He’s free. He’s actually out of that prison for good. It’s just the most phenomenal news I could ever have got.”
The men are not yet able to leave India, but are being supported by British consular staff as they apply to have their passports returned and fines reimbursed.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said that Mrs May and the rest of the Government warmly welcomed the overturning of the seafarers’ convictions. “The Government, from the Prime Minister down, has worked hard for over four years to support the men and their families, and we share their happiness at the court’s decision to give a full acquittal to each of the men.”
Mr Bailey said that the case had highlighted the risks taken by seafarers as they carry out their jobs. “The criminalisation of seafarers remains a constant threat to those who are responsible for transporting over 90 per cent of world trade.
“It’s why the Mission to Seafarers provides a range of services to all ranks, nationalities, and beliefs through its extensive global network of chaplains in more than 200 ports.”