Madurai court acquits jailed crew of US anti-piracy ship

Madurai, November 27, 2017.

The Madurai bench of Madras High Court on Monday acquitted all 35 crew members and guards of the US anti-piracy ship Seaman Guard Ohio from all charges of the Arms Act.

Justice A M Basheer Ahamed pronounced the judgment on Monday setting aside the trial court verdict. The judge said the prosecution had failed to prove that the Indian Coast Guard intercepted the vessel on October 12, 2013 within the territorial water of India. Besides, the prosecution had failed to prove that the ship had been engaged in any of the activities prejudicial to the peace, good order and security, he said.

The prosecution had produced a map pertaining to location of the disputed vessel. However, the location of the vessel and the baseline drawn with pencil on map were not proved by competent witness. Besides, the person who drew the location of the ship had not been examined for which no reason was assigned, the judge said.

Indian authorities impounded Seaman Guard Ohion and arrested its crew and guards on board in October 2013 after the ship entered Indian waters with “illegal arms without adequate permission.”

The Q branch of the Tamil Nadu police took up the investigation and booked the crew members under various Acts, including the Arms Act, IPC and the Essential Commodities Act.

On January 11 last year, the Tuticorin district and sessions court sentenced all the crew members to five years rigorous imprisonment and imposed a fine of Rs 3,000 on each of them. The crew members, including captain Dudnik Valentyn, filed appeals in high court against the verdict.

The arrested guards include six British former soldiers. They are likely to be released soon.

Indian authorities arrested Nick Dunn and five other men, known as the Chennai Six, in 2013 while working as guards on ships to combat piracy in the Indian Ocean.

The ex-soldiers always denied they were in possession of illegal firearms but were jailed for five years in 2016.

Dunn was working for a US firm protecting ships in pirate-infested seas when Indian authorities seized their vessel in 2013.

The authorities arrested the ex-soldiers for carrying weapons into India’s territorial waters. The charges were initially quashed when the men argued the weapons were lawfully held for anti-piracy purposes.