The freed 35 strong crew of the MV Seaman Guard Ohio now face further detention and a possible re-trial after a last minute appeal was lodged to overturn the decision of the Indian High Court to drop all charges, the Mission to Seafarers says.
6 British crewmen, along with 29 other seafarers, have now been held for a year in Chennai, after their anti-piracy support vessel was arrested after straying into Indian waters during a typhoon.
The Revd Canon Ken Peters, Director of Justice and Welfare, The Mission to Seafarers, said: “This has been the most terrible ordeal for all the crew and their families, and I am baffled that this has happened now. It has been a complex case, but the High Court Judge dismissed all charges three months ago, so the men rightly presumed that they were at last free to go.
I have been working with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to try and assist with the repatriation of the men. However, it now transpires that the Security Forces, known as ‘Q Branch’, have lodged a counter-appeal to have the charges re-instated in the Indian Supreme Court.
This is really making the lives of all concerned a misery. As the men have now been held for a year, I would like to make a further appeal to the good sense and sound judgment of the Indian Government to please look again at this case, and assist in this matter, to allow the seafarers to return home to their families as soon as possible.”
The MV Seaman Guard Ohio crew were accused of illegally possessing weapons after they were arrested last October while working on a private US-owned ship providing anti-piracy protection. The men had been found innocent by the court in July and freed, and were hoping to return home this week.
Billy Irving, one of the crew members , writing from India said: “I feel let down by the FCO as they have not done all they can to help us 6 UK Nationals being held in India.
The FCO said to me that they would not help us, even if we are seriously ill and cannot afford any medical treatment. I feel disgusted when I read a statement in an reply email to my father, from the British High Commissioner here in India, Mr Bharat Joshi, who said: “It is not appropriate for the UK taxpayer to bear the cost of accommodation, medical or other associated living expenses for the men.”
I have been a tax-payer since leaving school, I have served in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces for over 9 years, I still paid tax when I was deployed on combat operations, and to read that statement from a British High Commissioner is sickening; I feel truly let down. I have complained about how the FCO has dealt with problems I have had and yet I have had no reply.”