The Madras High Court Bench here on Wednesday granted bail to 33 crew members of U.S. anti-piracy ship Seaman Guard Ohio.
The ship was intercepted by the Coast Guard on October 12, 2013 on charges of entering Indian territorial waters without disclosing possession of arms and ammunition.
Justice R.S. Ramanathan, however, asked the six British nationals, 14 Estonians, one Ukrainian and twelve Indians to execute bonds worth Rs. 2 lakh each along with two sureties each to the satisfaction of the Judicial Magistrate-I in Tuticorin district.
He directed them to stay in Chennai until further orders and appear before the Mylapore police at 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. daily.
Two Tuticorin fishermen accused by the prosecution of having supplied 10 barrels of diesel illegally to the U.S. ship were granted anticipatory bail. The Judge, however, refused bail to the ship’s captain, M. Dudnik Valentyn (64), a Ukranian national, and it’s Tactical Deployment Officer, F. Paul David Dennish Towers (50), a British national, on the ground that they alone could be held responsible for irregularities, if any.
He pointed out that the Arms Act, 1959 did not prohibit vessels from carrying arms on the high seas. Prima facie, it had been proved that Seaman Guard Ohio was a genuine anti-piracy ship registered at Sierra Leone and it was bound to possess arms for combating pirates on the high seas.
The major charge levelled against the vessel’s officials was their failure to inform Indian port officials about the arms and ammunition. Such a charge could be levelled only against two top officials, including the Captain of the ship, and not the entire crew, the judge added.
He also referred to Articles 17 to 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which provide the right of innocent passage to every foreign vessel into the territorial waters of a Coastal State, as long as the entry was not prejudicial to peace, good order or security of that State.
In the instant case, there was no material to prove that the crew members of Seaman Guard Ohio had indulged in any act prejudicial to the security of the country. In fact, the prosecution had conceded that they were very cooperative right from the day of their arrest, the judge observed.