Union calls for release of Seaman Guard Ohio crew

The crew of floating armoury Seaman Guard Ohio are imprisoned in India. (Credit: AdvanFort)

Maritime union Nautilus International has called on the United Kingdom prime minister, Theresa May, to take action to help secure the release of the crew of a counter-piracy ship in India, including six British former members of the armed forces.

Nautilus International, in a letter to May, urged the British government to take “the strongest possible action” in securing the release of the crew, who have been “incarcerated in abysmal conditions” in India for almost four years.

The 35 seafarers and security personnel were detained aboard Sierra Leone-registered Seaman Guard Ohio by Indian authorities in October 2013 after it entered the country’s territorial waters for bunkering. The police accused the crew of carrying unregistered weapons and making an illicit money transfer for the bunkers. They were later sentenced to five years of “rigorous imprisonment”.

Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson expressed concern in the letter about the “unjust treatment and the dubious legal proceedings” taken against the men.

Lisa Dunn, sister of captured British security guard Nick Dunn, told SAS, “Their lawyer is working to free all 35 crew. No matter what their role was on board, they were all given the same charges and it is absurd to think guards were charged, let alone a deck hand or engineer or cook.”

A judge has been considering an appeal for seven months and family members and supporters of the British security team, dubbed the Chennai 6, have been running an awareness campaign and working with Nautilus International to put pressure on the British government to press for a verdict.

Andrew Linnington, director of campaigns and communications at Nautilus Inter­national, told SAS that with a recent rise in piracy cases it was important to keep it “on the agenda as the last thing we want to see is other countries feeling they have a carte blanche to treat people like this.”

He added that the British government must now step in with “much stronger” diplomatic pressure, as the flag state has not got involved and the owner has “pretty much washed their hands” of the case.

Stephen Askins, a partner in UK-based law firm Tatham Macinnes who is working on the case, told SAS it was an unusual situation as typically the “owners and everyone involved work together at the very outset to engage with the Indian authorities to solve the case”. The fact that this didn’t occur put the case on “the back foot”, he said. He added that there was speculation of a political dimension to the case, with the possibility that a Sri Lankan-run floating armoury supplier may have purposefully raised suspicions about the ship because “they didn’t want anyone on their patch”.

It is unclear when the judge will rule on the crew’s appeal, but Askins said if it was successful the Indian government would have a further 90 days to appeal the verdict.