In a new turn of events, the Supreme court has now redirected trial of 35 crewmen, found on board the Ohio vessel, back to the Magistrate Court in Tuticorin. This comes after the crew comprising of sailors, maritime guards and officers who were arrested on 12th October 2013 and have awaited trial and verdict for the past 21 months.
On 12th October 2013, The vessel that was anchored at the outer port limits of the Indian ocean, was escorted into Tuticorin for questioning by the Indian coast guard. The Seaman Guard Ohio crew was employed by M/s Advanfort. They carried arms to defend the Merchant ship from threat of piracy by Somalian pirates.
All 35 men found on board and originally detained now face trial. They include 6 ex-Military British men. Indian, Estonian and Ukrainian nationals have also been detained and are implicated.
Paul Towers, from the Seaman Guard Ohio crew, said: ‘The British maritime contractors have world recognized credentials to complete our duty for any shipping company. These credentials meet the International Maritime Organization and Maritime Coast Guard Authority (MCA) requirements and all shipping company requirements for the use of Private maritime security companies (PMSC) operating with privately contracted armed security personnel (PCASP), holding approved Seamens’ Cards and Discharge Books, Maritime Fire Arms Competency Certificates and who undertake Criminal Records Checks every six months’.
He was regretful of the gross abuse of human rights as the Indian authorities, and particularly the local Police in Tuticorin known as Q Branch, fail to recognise these credentials and accuse them of carrying illegal arms. The crew have neither received wages in the past 21 months nor been released and their passports have been seized. The crew has been held without proper trial for the past 625 days. The case that shuttled between the Magistrate court of Tuticorin to High court in Madurai and further to the Supreme court in Delhi, has now been shunted back to the court of origin – the Magistrate court of Tuticorin to conduct full trial.
The families of the detained crew have suffered both financially and mentally. Paul Towers expressed his gratitude to Ken Peters, Director of Justice and Public Affairs at The Mission to Seafarers and the British Legion and Veterans Aid in UK, in their efforts to make an appeal via foreign commonwealth Office to make diplomatic interventions in the matter.