Mission and families Publish Open Letter to the Maritime Security Industry
#FreeSGO6 campaign Day 855 – Seamen and guards detained and imprisoned for 2 years 4 months and 1 day contrary to international maritime and human rights law
From families of the Seaman Guard Ohio British crew and The Mission to Seafarers
Signed Lisa Dunn, Jess Kemp, Yvonne MacHugh, Tracy Simpson, Joanne Thomlinson and Ann Towers on behalf of Nick Dunn, Ray Tindall, Billy Irving, Nick Simpson, John Armstrong and Paul Towers.
In October 2013 six British ex-soldiers on board the MV Seaman Guard Ohio, were arrested and imprisoned without charge for straying into Indian waters whilst carrying what Indian police claimed to be illegal weapons without permission. Despite providing all weapons’ certification and the relevant paperwork proving they were providing maritime security to merchant vessels and protecting seafarers in some of the most dangerous seas in the world, they have now been found guilty of these crimes and jailed for 5 years.
The men are innocent under international maritime law and experienced maritime lawyers support our case. There has been a gross miscarriage of justice.
The crew have already spent 9 months in prison in the last 2 and half years. A charge was finally filed against them in January 2014. They were then released on bail, and began to fight to prove their innocence, which they did successfully. All charges were dropped by the Madras High Court in July 2014 leaving them free to return home.
Unfortunately this was not the case. The Indian authorities held their passports and documents stopping them from returning home to their loved ones and denying their freedom. The Indian Q Branch police lodged an appeal to have their charges re-instated and a full trial was ordered by the Supreme Court. After a long and mentally torturing wait the trial began in September 2015 in Tuticorin Magistrate’s court, in the port where they were first arrested.
On the 11th of January 2016 our hearts sank; our brothers, husbands, Sons, and fathers were given a guilty verdict and sentence to 5 years ‘rigorous imprisonment’. Not one of us or the people involved could have seen this verdict coming. All the evidence to prove their innocence was submitted in court, the trial had gone in their favour from day one, and most importantly, they were innocent. The devastation and anguish this has caused us, the families, is huge. It has left us crushed and with little hope.
The company the crew were working for – US company Advanfort – have completely abandoned them and have now disappeared. They have not paid any of the crew’s wages since October 2013 and have left both the men and their families in great financial difficulty. We are now faced with the heavy burden of paying yet more legal fees in order to fight this Injustice with a second appeal and bring our men home.
There are a huge number of ex-servicemen working in the security sector who we are sure will be aware of the situation, and we have personally had many messages asking how people can help. We have launched a Fund through The Mission to Seafarers www.justgiving.com/freesgo6 to raise the vital funds needed to fund a legal team and expenses. Our hopes are that if many give a little we can reach our target.
We also have a Petition at www.change.org/6soldiers which has reached over 347,000 signatures and we hope to deliver this to the Prime Minister in the coming weeks, calling on him to do everything in his power to ensure they are released. We understand fully that one country cannot intervene in another’s judicial process, but when innocent men are being prosecuted for a crime they have not committed, then the British government have an obligation to protect the human rights and freedom of these men and actively support their release to enable them to be brought home. These men have devoted their lives to protecting others. To unfairly punish them is unacceptable.
We ask you all today to help us. We call on all of you who understand the global shipping industry, who have faced the reality of piracy and the devastating effect that it has on seafarers’ lives, we ask you to please speak out for them. To speak out for all the wrongly imprisoned, honest, hardworking men of the MV Seaman Guard Ohio in India – all 35 men from India, Ukraine, Estonia and the United Kingdom. They have now been held for 855 days.
Photo: The MV CS NIWA in the Gulf was protected by the British men from the Seaman Guard Ohio in the months leading up to their unlawful detention in India.