Thursday, July 7, 2016

As Sorry Tale of Anti Pirate Crew Held in Indian Prison Drags On Families Launch Parliamentary Lobby

Guards Sent to Protect Merchant Shipping Remain Incarcerated after 1000 Days
Shipping News Feature
UK – INDIA – The Mission to Seafarers and families of the British guards of the anti-piracy vessel the Seaman Guard Ohio, who claim they are currently unlawfully detained and imprisoned in India, have called for a parliamentary lobby and supporter rally to hand in a petition at Downing Street on July 7, which marks the day when the men will have been in detention for 1,000 days. The families are calling for British MPs across all parties to unite to support the men and for the British people to write to their local MPs. Yvonne MacHugh, partner of Billy Irving, issued a statement, via saying:

“As you may or may not know the 7th of July marks 1000 days since the men were arrested. That is 1000 days too many that innocent men have had to have their lives torn apart and survive a living hell. Talking hasn’t worked, it’s time for action. The men cannot be left to rot for another 1000 days. They once fought for us as veterans, now we must fight for them.”

The Parliamentary Lobby will take place in the Boothroyd Room in Portcullis House from 10am to 11.30am. Families, supporting MPs and welfare charities will be speaking about the case. Families will also hand in a national petition to the Prime Minister at Downing Street. The petition has over 360,000 supporters that have signed to pledge their support so far with that number continuously rising.

The Revd Canon Ken Peters, Director of Justice and Public Affairs, The Mission to Seafarers, will be speaking at the Parliamentary Lobby. Ahead of the Lobby, he commented:

“Yet again we are bringing to the attention of all, the fact that men tasked with protecting seafarers from pirate attack are themselves ‘under attack’. The unwarranted detention of the crew of the MV Seaman Guard Ohio, in India, because of their possession of armaments used to defend against criminal violence, has dragged on for 1,000 days. There is still no end in sight for the judicial process which has been subjected to adjournment after adjournment, delay after delay.

“Whilst pirates roam free, the crew and guards are held in prison. This really is the wrong way round. We hope that common sense will prevail, the injustice recognised and the men released to be with their families, at home with loved ones. I wonder if any other professional will take on the task of patrolling the oceans to keep seafarers safe.”

The Sierra-Leone flagged Seaman Guard Ohio is owned by AdvanFort, a US-based firm that provided private maritime security services and was then a member of the now defunct international Security Association for the Maritime Industry (SAMI). The vessel was involved in supporting anti-piracy operations by providing armed escort services to commercial vessels travelling in what were then quite literally the pirate-infested waters in the Indian Ocean.

In October 2013 the vessel was intercepted by the Indian Coastguard off the Tuticorin coast. Though assertions were made that the vessel was actually 12.8 Nautical Miles (NM) from shore, authorities had concluded they were in fact 10.8NM from shore and within Indian Territorial Waters. 27 months later on from their initial arrest, the Tuticorin court handed down a five year hard labour sentence to each of the 35 men. Advanfort has done little to help the men since, seemingly abandoning their staff as the case proceeded. The full details of this sorry tale can be checked by consulting the Handy Shipping Guide archive simply by typing a suitable keyword or phrase, such as the name of the ship, into the News Search box at the head of any page. Lisa Dunn, sister of Nick Dunn, commented:

“For 1000 days now, my brother Nick and our family have had to try to get through the most immense pain and anguish knowing that he and his colleagues are at the centre of a devastating miscarriage of justice. To sustain this for one day was excruciating enough but the suffering we feel 1000 days on is truly indescribable. Never would any of us have ever imagined back in 2013 that we would still be living through this very real nightmare in 2016.

“My brother and his 34 colleagues are currently locked away in a prison after being handed a five year sentence in January, having to exist in the most horrific of conditions when there is overwhelming evidence proving their innocence. This is what I am fighting for and this is what I will continue to fight for until they are all back home safely with their families. I will not give up the fight for justice and their freedom.”

Speaking of her dismay and her anger over the lack of action taken so far, Joanne Thomlinson, sister of John Armstrong, said:

“35 crewmen, including my brother John, are serving a combined sentence of 175 years in prison in India for reasons that are as incomprehensible to us today as they were 1000 days ago when they were first arrested. These men were carrying out a legitimate and vital job. Our petition bears the signatures of more than 350,000 people who recognise what a tragedy and an injustice this is. It is almost 3 years since these men saw their families, their friends, their loved ones, their homes.

“Instead they sit day after day in a cramped prison cell wondering when this nightmare is going to end, wondering why they are being punished when they are innocent of wrongdoing, wondering when they will see their homes and families again. This is absolutely not justice and we are clear that this will not stand. That is why we will be travelling to London to meet with MPs and to hand in the petition. More needs to be done to help these men and we will not stop fighting until they are home.”