The 35 crew of the Seaman Guard Ohio have been sentenced to five years hard labour by an Indian court.
The crew of 25 private security personnel and 10 seafarers were sentenced to five years “rigorous imprisonment” by a Tuticorin court on Monday for illegally entering Indian waters with weapons in October 2013, according to local reports.
The term “rigorous imprisonment” is understood to be equivalent to hard labour.
The Seaman Guard Ohio, owned by Advanfort, and its crew were detained in October 2013 on charges of entering Indian waters without the proper paperwork, as well as illegally buying bunkers from a local supplier.
The decision comes despite the High Court of Madras dropping all charges against the men in July 2014. However, they were not allowed to leave India pending an appeal.
Judge Rajasekhar also imposed a fine of INR3,000 each on the crew members comprising 12 Indians, three Ukrainians, six British and 14 Estonian nationals.
The Indian court judgement has met with strong condemnation from the Human Rights at Sea (HRAS) CEO, David Hammond.
“Human Rights at Sea has yet to see the full judgment, but noting the case narrative to date and the competing and vested interests within India to be seen to take action, on the facts available at the time of writing this appears to be a travesty of justice for the ordinary crew-members who we understand were not aware of instructions being passed down from the employer, and who were otherwise simply doing their job,” he said in a statement.
“Human Rights at Sea calls for immediate respective Government support to all crew sentenced today,” he added.
An immediate appeal against the judgment is now expected.
A statement on the Facebook page of Paul Towers, one of the former British service men found guilty, read: “It’s with great sorrow that I am announcing that the Indian Courts have ruled against my dad and the rest of the men. Despite having no evidence against them and everything seemingly going in our favour they have found the men guilty regardless.”
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