PLEASE HELP – WE ARE FOUR FORMER BRITISH SOLDIERS STRANDED IN INDIA
Ray Tindall, Paul Towers, Nicholas Simpson & William Irving
We are humbly seeking funds to help our situation, these will be used to pay for food, accommodation and legal fees, thank you.
We were part of the crew onboard a Sierra-Leone flagged vessel MV Seaman Guard Ohio, which was owned by AdvanFort, a US-based firm that provided private maritime security services and was then a member of the international Security Association for the Maritime Industry (SAMI). The vessel was involved in supporting anti-piracy operations by providing armed escort services to commercial vessels travelling in what was then widely described as pirate-infested waters in the Indian Ocean.
On 12 October 2013 the vessel was boarded by the Indian Coastguard off the Tuticorin coast. Mr. Paul Towers asserted that the vessel was actually 12.8 Nautical Miles (NM) from shore, but that the authorities had concluded they were in fact 10.8NM from shore and within Indian Territorial Waters (TTWs). It is further asserted by the crew that this calculation by the Indian authorities was undertaken by using two small islands as the base line for their measurements. “This [in relation to the Indian authorities calculations] put us inside by 1.2 NM” stated Mr. Towers.
The crew were arrested and detained by the Indian Coastguard near Tuticorin Port on suspicion of possession of arms, without a proper license. The crew consisted of 35 individuals, comprising 10 vessel crew and 25 armed guards (“the crew”). They included Indians, Britons, Ukrainians and Estonians. Amongst the crew, the following British nationals were onboard: Mr. Paul Towers, Mr. William Irving, Mr. Nicholas Simpson, Mr. Raymond Tindall, Mr. Nick Dunn and Mr. John Armstrong. Mr. Towers was separated and taken for interrogation by the authorities.
1.On 20 October 2013, bail petitions were dismissed by Sessions Judge Paul Durai, at the Judicial Magistrates Court, Tuticorin.
2.On 23 October 2013, 22 foreign nationals among the 35 arrested crew were moved from Palayamkottai Central Prison to Chennai Puzhal Central Prison with tight security days after they complained of poor living conditions in the jail.
3.On 24 October 2013, Judicial Magistrate C Kathiravan sent 2 Indian nationals and the UK National, Mr. Towers, to 7 days of police custody for further interrogation.
4. On 18 December 2013, bail applications were made on behalf of all crew.
5. On 26 December 2013: Judicial Magistrate-I C Kathiravan granted conditional bail after the crew argued that the Q branch had failed to file the charge sheet even after 60 days of their arrest.
6. On 7 January 2014, the Principal Sessions Court cancelled the conditional bail granted by a lower court to 35 crew allowing a criminal revision petition by Tamil Nadu Q Branch police. Chief Judicial Magistrate K Ventatasamy held that it was ‘flawed’ and went against the orders of higher courts, including the Supreme Court, as the incident posed a challenge to national security.
7. On February 2014, the crew’s lawyer filed a new bail application detailing the brutal treatment of the prisoners, including their deteriorating health due to malnutrition, unsanitary conditions, mental harassment and emotional trauma, which they have endured since their arrests. This was supported the International Organisation of Masters, Mates and Pilots (MMP) and who spoke out publicly about the inhumane treatment of the crew and guards.
8. Conditional bail was granted on 26 March 2014, though the men were not released until 6 April 2014 as the Indian authorities repeatedly postponed the decision to release. The court did, however, refuse bail to the vessel’s Ukrainian Captain, Dudinik Valentyn and Mr. Paul Towers, both of whom remained in jail.
1. On 10 July 2014, the charges against the Seaman Guard Ohio crew were quashed by Justice P N Prakash in the Indian Madras High Court (Madurai Bench), finding that:
a) The vessel had made a distress entry into Indian waters in search of food and fuel. It anchored at the outer limit of Tuticorin port out of necessity and was waiting for the supplies. Accordingly, the action was saved by the principle of ‘innocent passage’.
b) When the Coastguard questioned them, they admitted that there were arms and ammunitions on board. After bringing them to the port for investigation, they cannot be prosecuted for violation of the notification. There was no material that disclosed the commission of grave offences prejudicial to peace and offences under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967.
c) There was no material to suggest that the vessel had come into the territorial waters with ulterior purpose. Hence, the Arms Act against the crew of the vessel was quashed.
d) Both the Captain of the vessel as well as the supplier were punishable under the Essential Commodities and Control Act for the supply of 10 drums of fuel.
2. All charges were dropped and the crew were released from prison. However, the Tamil Nadu police held onto the crew’s passports whilst a decision by them was made as to whether or not to appeal the judgment.
3. On 25 August 2014, the State of Tamil Nadu filed an application for appeal (SLP (Crl) No.7099/2014) to the Supreme Court, along with an application seeking an interim stay of operation of the impugned judgment. The Tamil Nadu police maintained that the vessel was a threat to Indian national security, particularly in light of militants entering the country. The Supreme Court admitted the appeal and issued notice to the respondents. However, no order was issued to stay the operation of the impugned judgment as requested by the Tamil Nadu Police.
WE THEREFORE SHOULD HAVE BEEN ALLOWED TO RETURN HOME…HOWEVER…
1. On 28th April 2015, the Supreme Court finally heard the case, from the prosecution and the defence, decision pending.
2. On the 1st July 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that the case has to be sent back to the original court where the trial took place to be heard in full. They have stipulated that the proceedings must be completed within 6 months.
3. Supreme Court Orders stated that the lower court in Tuticorin must now conduct a full trial.
1. They have now passed the case to the Sessions Court(Trial Court), in order for us to be placed on trial.
1. They have set a date of the 24th August, when we will be ‘framed with charges’ again and then a trial date will be set.
2. Trial date set for the 14th September and will continue until all witnesses have been examined.
3. Final Arguments complete 17th December, all went well.
4. Judges Verdict to be announced in the Court on the 11th January 2016.
Have not paid us any wages since November 2013, they seized paying for our food and accommodation in July 2014 and have left us to pay for our own legal team.