Wednesday, December 6, 2017

As Crew Are Finally Freed the Anti-Piracy Saga of the Chennai Six, and 29 Colleagues is Over

End of a Sordid Tale of Arms, Lies, Inaction and Injustice
Shipping News Feature
INDIA – UK – ESTONIA – UKRAINE – With the first of the so-called 'Chennai Six' landing in Britain today, it is finally time to end the sorry tale of the maritime anti-piracy crew caught up in the ineptitudes of the Indian judicial system. Whilst initially there may have been possible grounds for detaining the 35 crew members of the vessel Seaman Guard Ohio, despite the doubts we expressed at the time, the words of the judge at the men's final appeal sums up just how poorly the Indian authorities acted in this case.

Justice A M Basheer Ahamed said the prosecuting authorities had failed completely to prove a case during which it neglected to call vital witnesses. The Indian Coast Guard which arrested the ship had moved the vessel from the open sea, where it was resting awaiting provisioning and bunkerage into the inner port of Tuticorin, at which point the men were arrested after their legally held arms were discovered.

After initially being freed the men were retried in January 2016 at the Tuticorin district and sessions Court where a pencil sketch was produced as evidence of the ship’s position, with the artist not questioned as to how he had arrived at the decision as to the exact whereabouts of the vessel when it was seized. The Court imposed a fine on each man and five years imprisonment, something waived at the appeal when Justice Basheer Ahamed decreed all the men, the twelve Indian nationals languishing in Palayamkottattai prison and the 14 Estonians, six British and three Ukrainians locked up in the Chennai Puzhal gaol be ‘released forthwith unless their detention is required in connection with other cases’.

This is a case where only the men involved, and particularly their families and supporters, particularly the Mission to Seafarers’ and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) can hold their heads up at the way they have behaved. The men’s employer, Advanfort, a US security group, would seem to simply have abandoned them to their fate, The Indian authorities were, to say the least, painfully slow to investigate what was clearly a misdirected attack, whilst the British government, although praised by the men on release, clearly appeared to have little influence in the matter, despite the personal intervention of Prime Minister Theresa May. Speaking as the first of the British men landed, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, said:

”It is wonderful news that the men are returning to the UK. The Foreign Office has worked unstintingly on this case, lobbying on the men’s behalf, visiting them in prison, updating their families, and maintaining close contact with their legal team. I pay tribute to those who have campaigned for the men, who will be delighted to see them return home after being separated for so long.”

For a month by month picture of this long running saga simply type the name of the vessel into the News Search box at the head of the page.

Photo: Billy Irving, the first of the UK men arriving at Glasgow Airport only to be seized by the representative of a national newspaper which doubtless will be telling his personal story.