[ACNS] The crew of an anti-piracy vessel who, last month, were jailed for five years in India for carrying illegal arms must wait to find out whether they have been successful in their bid for bail while an appeal is heard. The Anglican agency Mission to Seafarers is supporting the 10 crew and 25 guards saying that as they were engaged in anti-piracy security patrols they were entitled to carry the weapons under international laws of the sea.
The crew were detained off the coast of Tuticorin on 18 October 2013 and have been held in India ever since on charges of carrying illegal arms, illegal refuelling and unlawfully entering Indian waters. The Mission to Seafarers have been supporting the crew and their families. After their conviction last month, the agency’s director of justice and public affairs, Ken Peters, said that he was “horrified and filled with anguish” at what he called a “deeply unfair and unjust decision.”
The crew are appealing their convictions with the help of the International Transport Workers Association (ITF). A bail hearing this week was adjourned after 90 minutes and will resume next week for further legal argument.
“Our family feel a sense of comfort knowing that the initial appeal procedure is now underway,” Lisa Dunn, the sister of detained crew member Nick Dunn from Northumberland in the north of England told the Mission to Seafarers this week. “This is very frustrating in that we still have to continue to fight to prove the men's innocence for a second time yet extremely daunting given the unbelievable guilty sentence passed to them.
“Our family are not prepared to accept this verdict and we will continue to do all we can to ensure justice prevails.”
Ann Towers, from Yorkshire, England, is the wife of Paul Towers, another detained crew member. She said: “Despite the shock subsiding after the verdict, our hearts remain broken at the decision to imprison the men.
“This is utter madness that men who have led lives of integrity and service should end up behind the bars of a prison. Without the unwavering support and loyalty of our family, friends and colleagues, we would not have survived this traumatic time in our lives, and we remain humbled at the generosity and kindness of all these people and those we don't know who have signed the petition, or donated to help in our plight. We pray for the appeal to be expedited as quickly as possible and that justice will prevail, so that our beloved men are allowed to come home.”
Maritime lawyer, Stephen Askins, with UK law firm Tatham Macinnes, said: “The fact is that floating armouries are widely used in the maritime industry; there were weapons on board, but they are strictly controlled, stored and accounted for in the same way as when arms are legitimately stored in a military armoury.
“Ships with weapons stored on board go in and out of Indian ports every day single day. TheSeaman Guard Ohio went to get fuel and supplies offshore of a port which they are entitled to do under international maritime law and is an everyday necessity. Ships, like cars, need fuel.
“But the vessel was detained and brought into port. The men have been charged with possessing unlicensed weapons in the territorial waters of India. However, the vessel and the seamen represented no terrorist threat to India or its people at all, and the motivation behind bringing the charges is completely incomprehensible when set in the context of the crew’s primary role which was to protect the world’s commercial shipping fleet.
“The 35 guards and seafarers on board the vessel were a professional, multinational crew, which also included Indian sailors.”
The families of the detained men have launched a petition calling on the British government to intervene.