35 Crew Members of American Ship, Including 23 Foreigners, Acquitted By Chennai Court
The sailors on board the MV Seaman Guard Ohio were arrested by the Indian Coast Guard in 2013.
The four-year-old case of the “Chennai Six” and 29 other men charged with illegal possession of arms on board the American anti-piracy ship MV Seaman Guard Ohio saw a resolution on Nov. 27. The group of 35 men — 10 crew members and 25 armed guards — comprising six British, 12 Indian, 14 Estonian and three Ukrainian nationals, were acquitted by the Madras High Court.
“The prosecution failed to prove its charges and hence the court has now set them free. It is not known whether the prosecution would go for appeal against the judgement,” P. Muthusamy, the counsel for the Indian crew members of the ship, told IANS.
The sailors were arrested by the Indian Coast Guard in 2013 when the vessel MV Seaman Guard Ohio, which had semi-automatic weapons and ammunition on board, was intercepted off the Tamil Nadu coast, 15 nautical miles off Tuticorin. The vessel operators said that it had been chartered to protect ships crossing the Indian ocean. According to Indian authorities, the crew did not have the requisite paperwork for the weapons they had on board — 35 guns and almost 6,000 rounds of ammunition — and illegally entered Indian waters.
The MV Seaman Guard Ohio is owned by American maritime security firm AdvanFort, which claimed that all weapons on board were legally purchased and documented.
While a court revoked the charges against them in July 2014, the Supreme Court ordered their trial again in the Tuticorin Sessions Court. The Tuticorin court sentenced them to five years in prison and a fine. They were all back in prison. The 12 Indians were lodged at Palayamkottattai prison while the foreign nationals were housed at the Chennai Puzhal prison.
The UK government, which has been pushing for the release of the “Chennai Six” — Nick Dunn, Billy Irving, Ray Tindall , Paul Towers, John Armstrong, and Nicholas Simpson — welcomed the news. A spokesperson for British prime minister Theresa May said: “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.”
UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said in a statement: “The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has worked tirelessly behind the scenes to reunite these men with their families. The importance the UK government places on their case cannot be understated.”
Lisa Dunn, the sister of Nick Dunn, was quoted by the BBC as saying: “It will make all of our Christmases – all of our dreams have come true today.”