ITF joins calls for Ukrainian seafarer’s release

Avant Garde. Credit: Derrick Pinington/Marine Traffic

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has appealed to the Sri Lankan government to intervene in the case of Ukrainian seafarer captain Gennadiy Gavrylov who has been held in Sri Lanka for more than three years on the charge of illegally importing firearms to Sri Lanka and the illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

52-year-old Gavrylov was the master aboard the Sri Lankan-flagged Avant Garde, a vessel engaged in maritime security and piracy prevention, with firearms and an ammunition store kept on board for this role. In October 2015, the vessel was anchored in international waters off Galle awaiting company orders when Sri Lankan authorities forced it to enter Sri Lankan waters and seized the ship.

The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) then conducted an investigation while the ship was docked in Galle port and found 549 T-56 weapons, 264 84-S weapons, and 204,674 bullets during an inspection, leading it to charge and hold Gavrylov in June 2016.

Although Gavrylov has been granted bail in March 2017, he remains under strict conditions that preclude him from leaving the country while the CID continues to investigate the case in question. Without a Ukrainian embassy in Sri Lanka to turn to, he reached out to the Ukrainian embassy in India; however, it refused to assist him due to the criminal investigation being under way.

With the CID unable or unwilling to indicate a timeframe for concluding its investigations, Gavrylov is unable to go back to his country. The captain has repeatedly pointed out that he has told the Sri Lankan authorities everything he knew and that he was simply captaining the vessel. “The authorities are not letting me go, saying they need more time to conclude the investigations. It has been four years and they keep saying they need more time. I don’t know how much more time they need,” he said.

ITF general-secretary Stephen Cotton noted that the seafarer is clearly a victim of criminalisation, and to continue to hold him is a breach of his human rights. “International law is clear on the rights of individuals who are subject to detention by state authorities. If any person is arrested or detained on a criminal charge, they should be permitted to stand trial or be released within a reasonable time,” he pointed out. Gavylov has also been restricted from contacting his family and prevented from earning a living.

Although his necessities are covered by the Sri Lanka Shipping Company in Galle providing him with a small room and a local allowance of LKR50,000 (USD725) per month for food, clothing, and other essential items, this does little to address the larger issue of his restricted movement and his isolation from his family (as well as their needs).

Additionally, Gavrylov has noted that his health is failing. He has shown recent signs of heart complications and has been hospitalised for dengue. His mother and mother-in-law are both sick, and the situation has taken a toll on him and his family. “His health is suffering, he desperately needs lifesaving heart surgery, and his family is left languishing without his wage to support them,” said Cotton.

The captain is due to appear in court again on 23 July for a further hearing on his case. However, he notes he has little hope that he will be allowed to return to his family in Ukraine.