Following their detention in October 2013 over allegations of firearms-related and illegal-bunkering offences, the 10 crew and 25 armed security personnel of UK, Estonian, Indian and Ukranian origin were set to return home this week, after an Indian High Court Judge dismissed the charges in July.
“Nothing in Indian law states that we can have our documents withheld by the authorities when we have been found innocent,” crew member John Armstrong told charity Mission to Seafarers (MtS). “Despite this, the magistrate court in Tuticorin overturned the High Court’s dismissal of the case and ruled we were not allowed our travel documents or luggage, which is apparently still on the ship.
“Now we face a further counter-appeal and retrial at the eleventh hour instigated by the Indian Security Forces. We have no idea why. Despite this injustice, our government will not get involved in the legal process.”
Fellow British crewmember Billy Irving felt “let down” by the UK Foreign office: “The FCO said to me that they would not help us, even if we are seriously ill and cannot afford any medical treatment.
“I feel disgusted when I read a statement in an reply email to my father, from the British High Commissioner here in India, Mr Bharat Joshi, who said, 'It is not appropriate for the UK taxpayer to bear the cost of accommodation, medical or other associated living expenses for the men.' I have been a tax-payer since leaving school, I have served in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces for over nine years, I still paid tax when I was deployed on combat operations, and to read that statement from a British High Commissioner is sickening; I feel truly let down.”
MtS Director of Justice and Welfare Revd Canon Ken Peters said: “I am baffled that this has happened now. It has been a complex case, but the High Court Judge dismissed all charges three months ago, so the men rightly presumed that they were at last free to go.
“However, it now transpires that the Security Forces, known as ‘Q Branch’, have lodged a counter-appeal to have the charges re-instated in the Indian Supreme Court.
“This is really making the lives of all concerned a misery. As the men have now been held for a year, I would like to make a further appeal to the good sense and sound judgment of the Indian Government to please look again at this case, and assist in this matter, to allow the seafarers to return home to their families as soon as possible.”