The arguably unfair criminalization of crew and armed guards in the MV Seaman Guard Ohio case, is stalling talks between the EU and India according to to a report in the Hindu this week where MEP Geoffrey Van Orden referenced the situation in his update on progress.
SRI strongly advocates the fair treatment of seafarers and the observance of basic human rights for seafarers facing criminal charges as a result of carrying out their job, and we are watching how the case unfolds.
Mr. Van Orden expressed his wish for a goodwill gesture from the Indian government that “all those under trial could return to their home countries until the legal proceedings against them conclude”.
If you haven’t been following the story, 35 crew and armed guards were arrested and charged in 2013 for unauthorised entry into Indian waters carrying illegal arms and ammunition on board their vessel. In a judgment on January 11, 2016, the Supreme Court of India sentenced all the men to 5 years hard labour despite many of the seafarers claiming that they were simply carrying out tasks as instructed by their employer.
SRI has carried out a legal analysis of the judgment and we believe that there are grounds for appeal. Earlier this year, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) stated that they believe “there is a clear case of criminalisation of the vessel’s crew”, and have therefore “pledged to pay for legal support for the court appeal”.
It is unclear at this stage how much weight the comments made by Mr. Van Orden will have on the case, as improved relationships between the two governments is of paramount importance. The MEP commented that he didn’t feel the issue of human rights should “hamper bilateral engagement”.
In the meantime, the company AdvanFort, the vessel’s owners, who failed to ensure there was paperwork on board for the munitions, have not accounted for themselves. Dave Heindel, chairman of the ITF seafarers’ section has said:
“The real scandal is that the company responsible, AdvanFort, has been able to play fast and loose with rules, regulations, vessel registration and insurance, thereby dropping the ship’s crew and the armed guards into this mess. Having done so they have abandoned their employees and washed their hands of them. Given its behaviour throughout this affair, AdvanFort does not deserve to continue to exist in business,” Heindel said.
What this situation does emphasise is the need for seafarers to educate themselves on the laws of foreign states. SRI’s app and online knowledge base provides clear, easy to understand information on seafarers’ rights in many countries around the world, should seafarers need further information.
The final appeal is currently scheduled to be heard on 1 June 2016.