SC demands truth about mystery ship

Sierra Leone-registered ship Seaman Guard Ohio at a port in Tuticorin. File photo  

About two years after the Madras High Court froze an arms trial into M.V. Seaman Guard Ohio — a Sierra Leone-registered vessel owned by a company in Washington D.C. found anchored off the Thoothukudi port in Tamil Nadu with a huge cache of prohibited firearms, ammunition and fuel — the Supreme Court has said that it is time to dig out the truth behind the ship.

The case investigated by the ‘Q’ Branch of the State CID literally came to a standstill when the High Court quashed charges under the Arms Act, saying there was nothing wrong in the ship possessing arms and ammunition as it was involved in “anti-piracy business.”

The single judge of the High Court did not find any evidence to point even a “needle of suspicion about the involvement of the crew members and others in the ship in any crime that is prejudicial to the interest of this country.”

‘HC decision illegal’

On an appeal filed by the CID, the Supreme Court Bench of Justices Vikramjit Sen and Abhay Manohar Sapre set aside the High Court’s decision as “illegal and erroneous.”

“The very fact that huge quantity of arms and ammunition were recovered from the possession of the crew members from the vessel and they were unable to satisfy their legal possession over such arms/ammunition is sufficient to attract the provisions of Arms Act,” Justice Sapre wrote in his judgment on July 1.

The apex court ordered the trial court to complete the trial in six months.

The vessel was seen stationed 10.8 nautical miles from the Thoothukudi port on October 11, 2013. The CID case says alarms were set off when an unidentified boat was seen approaching the vessel. The Coast Guard had escorted the ship to port.

On October 17, an investigation team found 35 firearms, 5682 ammunition and 102 magazines on the ship. The prosecution said the 35-strong crew owned up that they had no documents to show for the arms and ammunition. Besides, 2,000 litres of diesel was found on the ship.

The CID said that e-mails exchanged between the owner of the vessel, AdvanFort Company US, and the crew showed that the former had wired around Rs. 20 lakh to their accounts.

The accused were charged with offences under the Arms Act, 1959, the Essential Commodities Act, 1955, and the Motor Spirit and High Speed Diesel (Regulation of Supply, Distribution and Prevention of Malpractices) Order 1990.

But, acting on the appeals filed by some of the crew, the HC decided there was no prima facie case against them under the Arms Act and quashed all charges except those under the Essential Commodities Act.

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Printable version | Jun 18, 2021 1:10:37 AM |

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