By ACNS staff
Anglican agency The Mission to Seafarers is seeking justice for 35 men awaiting trial in Chennai, India, for the past five months.
The US-owned vessel MV Seaman Guard Ohio – with a crew comprising Indians, Britons, Ukrainians and Estonians – was detained on 12 October by the Indian Coast Guard.
While the ship’s owner, AdvanFort, said the crew was involved in supporting anti-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean, the Indian authorities said weapons and ammunition discovered on board had not been properly declared.
Those on board were refused bail and, five months on, the global maritime welfare charity, along with the families of the men, is now upping the pressure on governments both home and abroad.
The Mission to Seafarers, which has been providing prison-visiting services at Puzhal Central Prizon where the men are being held, has met with the British Goverment on this issue. It has also publicly called on the UK Government to take notice of a 144,000 signature petition asking for Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague’s help to free the Brits.
The online petition was set up by the families of the six British private marine security contractors who were aboard the ship when it was detained.
In a recent statement, The Revd Canon Ken Peters, director of justice and public affairs at The Mission to Seafarers said: "The seafarers that have been arrested by the authorities in south east India have been detained for a very long time, and the families of the crew in the UK are desperately worried for their health and wellbeing.
"Piracy is a daily threat to shipping in the Gulf, so we absolutely understand why patrol vessels are needed and are legitimate.”
He did, however, acknowledge that the ship appeared to “have been in the wrong place at the wrong time”. Back in October AdvanFort said India's coast guard and police had allowed the vessel to enter the port to refuel and shelter from a cyclone which hit India's eastern coast last weekend.
At a press conference held at the agency’s UK headquarters yesterday, families of the crewmen announced the British lawers representing their relatives had been dismissed ahead of a pending bail hearing.
In a statement, the agency said, “The Mission to Seafarers, global maritime charity, which is supporting the seafarers, is now in touch with the Indian legal team and is trying to get clarity around what this might mean for the men.
The families of the men have further announced today that they have decided to launch a fighting fund to help support their loved ones in prison. The Mission to Seafarers is going to help manage and supervise the fundraising campaign, via the JustGiving website.
General Secretary of The Mission to Seafarers said, “The MtS has been closely involved with both the crew and their families throughout this long ordeal and we will continue to do all that we can in support. Any donation made to the fund will be used in direct aid to the imprisoned crew across a range of areas, including adequate medical provision, food and water, clothing and counselling. Other needs may become urgent as matters progress. Any funds raised over and above what is needed in India will be used to further the welfare work of Mission to Seafarers across the world.”