The 35 crew of anti-piracy ship Seaman Guard Ohio are to face trial in India on charges of illegally carrying weapons and straying into Indian waters, after being held for 21 months.
The Supreme Court in Delhi referred the case back to the magistrates’ court in Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu, overturning a ruling by the High Court in Madurai, which found there was no case to answer on 10 July 2014.
The trial may take up to six months to begin. Meanwhile, the crew – whose passports and belongings are being held by the Supreme Court – will continue to be supported mostly by seafarer charities: The Mission to Seafarers, the British Legion, and Veterans Aid UK.
Speaking to The Mission to Seafarers, British crewman Paul Towers said, “Without this assistance we would be sleeping in the streets.”
The crew were arrested by Tamil Nadu police on 18 October 2013, when the armed-guard accommodation vessel was accused of illegally entering Indian territorial waters with undeclared weapons and ammunition on board and illegally refuelling at sea. The 35 detained crew members include British, Estonian, Indian, and Ukrainian nationals.
Shipowner AdvanFort’s has maintained that India’s coastguards and police had allowed the ship into the port to refuel and shelter from a storm and that all weapons had been properly registered.
The Mission to Seafarers said that the crew were now facing a “retrial and rearrest for the original charges”.
“The Indian authorities, and particularly the local police in Tuticorin, known as Q Branch, are convinced that the vessel was operating illegally,” the Anglican charity said.
Towers said, “The Supreme Court in Delhi issued the order for a trial on 1 July. We have now received the judgement and are taking urgent advice to understand the reasons for our case being referred back to the original court who imprisoned us, which is the magistrates’ court in Tuticorin.”
The Mission to Seafarers and other maritime charities are appealing to the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the British parliament “for urgent and immediate diplomatic interventions on this matter”.