Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Freed Anti-Piracy Crew Thank Supporters After Ill Fated Voyage Led to Prison

Relief, Gratitude and Criticism as Difficult Case Hopefully Ends
Shipping News Feature
INDIA – UK – Following our story earlier this week regarding what has been known in the UK as the 'Chennai Six' affair, the latest chapter of which has seen a total of 35 crew, incarcerated after the ill-fated voyage of the piracy patrol vessel Seaman Guard Ohio into Indian territorial waters, released by the Court of Appeal, we make no apologies in publishing a further update to a tawdry affair in which few, if any, of the participants emerge with honour intact.

Despite gaining their freedom the six British security guards arrested over four years ago have still not been allowed to leave India as yet. Whilst they once again wait to find if there is to be yet another appeal against them they have issued a statement through their relatives in London saying:

"After four long years, we, along with the 29 crew of the Seaman Guard Ohio, have been cleared by the Appeal Court. We want to thank the court for reaching this decision. We are all in good health and eager to return to our families and friends. Whilst we wait for permission to leave India and come home, we ask the media to respect our privacy and that of our families during this process.

"We want to thank our legal counsel, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and The Mission to Seafarers for helping us reach this point. We have been glad to receive the many messages of support and care packages during our time in prison, and ask for time to reflect on our experience and to prepare for home. We kindly ask that any individuals or media interested in our story do not contact us or our families directly at present. Please respect our collective wish for privacy at this time.”

Certainly the Mission to Seafarers, as usual, stood up and played a significant part in supporting the families and the men themselves, acting within 36 hours of the initial arrests to start the process of providing counselling, advice, and financial support around the clock. The Mission has provided and administered a legal fund to fight the men’s case, as well as paid for medical treatment for the Ukrainian Master’s terminal illness in partnership with the ITF Seafarers’ Trust. Ben Bailey, Director of Advocacy, The Mission for Seafarers, commented:

“Today is a day that we have long campaigned for. Maritime security professionals provide an important service in protecting seafarers from piracy. What matters now is that the crew must be given space to be reunited with their loved ones, and the Mission will be supporting them through that process as we have from the start. We are liaising with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to make available a team of highly-trained counsellors, as well as arranging accommodation and flights home.

“The case of the Seaman Guard Ohio highlights once again the issue that millions of merchant seafarers often face when carrying out their everyday jobs. The criminalisation of seafarers remains a constant threat to those who are responsible for transporting over 90% of world trade. It’s why The Mission to Seafarers provides a range of services to all ranks, nationalities and beliefs through its extensive global network of chaplains in more than 200 ports.“

As mentioned by the Mission the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has also played a key role in supporting the men since 2013 and ITF seafarers’ section chair, David Heindel, made a point about the shady nature of the ships US based operators, saying:

“At last there is some form of justice, even if it cannot restore to the men the time lost since their arrest in 2013. Unfortunately, one glaring injustice remains: the scandal of AdvanFort getting off scot free, having washed its hands of its employees. They took the money, they sauntered off, pockets bulging. It is nothing short of shameful that our justice system allows them to get away with this. But as we have witnessed over and over, this is the flag of convenience system that has been created!”

Despite the expressions of thanks from the freed British men to UK government representatives this was often not the attitude of friends and families of the six, prompting Billy Irving’s partner Yvonne to launch a petition demanding justice which garnered over 410,000 signatures. Following the announcement of the verdict, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said:

“Since I became Foreign Secretary, this case has been a top priority for everybody at the Foreign Office and today’s verdict is fantastic news. The FCO has worked tirelessly behind the scenes to reunite these men with their families. The importance the UK government places on their case cannot be overstated. The men, their families and their supporters, who have campaigned unrelentingly, must be overjoyed. I share their delight and I hope they can return home as soon as possible.

Photo: The freed men waved to reporters and supporters as they left jail. Courtesy Ravid Singh.

The history of this affair can be tracked from 2013 by typing the ship’s name into the News Search box at the head of any page.