In yet another setback for the 35 crew of Seaman Guard Ohio, the Madras High Court Bench refused an appeal to suspend their five-year “rigorous imprisonment” sentences.
The move leaves one final appeal, scheduled for 1 June, while the crew remains in jail, according to information from campaigner Human Rights At Sea (HRAS).
Madras High Court Justice V.S. Ravi said he was not inclined to grant the relief in view of the grave charges leveled against the six British nationals, 14 Estonians, three Ukranians and 12 Indians.
The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) stepped in to provide legal support to the men following their abandonment by previous employer Advanfort.
The Sierra-Leone-flagged private security vessel Seaman Guard Ohio, owned by Advanfort, and its crew were detained in October 2013 on charges of entering Indian territorial waters carrying unlicensed rifles and ammunition, as well as illegally buying bunkers from a local supplier. At the time, Advanfort maintained the vessel had been seeking safe harbour from a typhoon.
All charges against the 25 private security personnel and 10 seafarers were dropped in mid-2014, but following a last-ditch appeal against the ruling by the Indian security forces, the verdict was overturned and the 35 men re-tried. In January this year, the crew were sentenced to five years “rigorous imprisonment” – equivalent to hard labour – by a Tuticorin court.
“This is yet another blow to the families of the vessel’s crew and security guards, though our charity sees them as one body of seafarers caught in the Indian judicial system,” said HRAS CEO, David Hammond.
“We have always supported the rights of these men to lawfully challenge the facts of the case, the charges laid against them and now to appeal their sentences. We will continue to support their position alongside other key maritime organisations and charities pressing for justice and their release,” he said.
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