HC orders release of American ship crew

A file photo of MV Seaman Guard Ohio.PTI

A file photo of MV Seaman Guard Ohio.PTI  

Sets aside Thoothukudi court order

The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court on Monday ordered the release of all 35 crew members of the U.S. anti-piracy vessel MV Seaman Guard Ohio , setting aside a lower court’s order. The court also ordered the return of the passports seized from them.

Justice A.M. Basheer Ahamed acquitted the crewmen, who were accused of possessing arms, of charges under Section 25 (1-A),(1-B) and (1-C) of the Arms Act, 1959, and observed that Section 45 (a) of the Arms Act protected the crew and guards from prosecution.

The court observed that the map relied upon by the prosecution to substantiate the baseline, latitude and longitude of the ship had no credence and could not be accepted. It also recognised the Right of Innocent Passage under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS).

The court observed that the prosecution had failed to prove that the ship was intercepted by the Indian Coast Guard within the territorial limits of 12 nautical miles. The HC Bench had reserved its orders in the case in December 2016.

Lower court ruling

The Principal Sessions Judge, Thoothukudi, in January 2016, had sentenced the accused to a term of five years’ rigorous imprisonment for illegally entering the Indian waters with arms and ammunition.

The ‘Q’ Branch police had arrested the crew members of the Sierra Leone-flagged, U.S.-based MV Seaman Guard Ohio belonging to a U.S. company, AdvanFort, in October 2013.

The members were arrested for sailing into Indian waters without permission and possession of arms and ammunition. It was intercepted by Indian Coast Guard ship Naikidevi and escorted to V.O. Chidambaranar Port in Thoothukudi.

The arrested persons included 14 Estonians, 12 Indians, six Britons and three Ukrainians, of whom 25 were guards and 10 crew members.

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