England

MV Seaman Guard Ohio crew 'must be allowed home'

MV Seaman Guard Ohio Image copyright AP
Image caption Indian authorities said they found weapons and ammunition which had not been properly declared but the six men on board were cleared of wrongdoing

Two maritime campaign groups are calling for six former soldiers detained in India to be returned home.

Human Rights at Sea (HRAS) and The Mission to Seafarers (MtS) have issued a global plea for action for the crew of US ship the MV Seaman Guard Ohio.

They were arrested more than 500 days ago for illegal possession of weapons, but charges were dropped last July.

They have had their passports confiscated, however, while prosecutors consider an appeal.

Image caption Mr Dunn's family said the cost of supporting him while he is in India has run into "thousands of pounds"

The men, who were on anti-piracy patrols when they were arrested, are:

  • Nick Dunn from Ashington, Northumberland
  • John Armstrong of Wigton, Cumbria
  • Ray Tindall from Chester
  • Billy Irving from Connel, Argyll
  • Paul Towers from Pocklington, East Yorkshire
  • Nicholas Simpson from Catterick, North Yorkshire

The ship was detained by Indian authorities in October 2013 with the men arrested after weapons and ammunition were found.

The authorities claimed they intercepted the ship as it was illegally sailing in Indian waters off the coast of Tamil Nadu, but the ship's owners AdvanFort said India's coastguard and police allowed the vessel to enter port to refuel and shelter from a cyclone.

HRAS founder David Hammond said: "We remain very concerned at some of the constabulary and judicial actions in the handling of the case and urge the Indian authorities to bring this case to a swift conclusion in line with Indian law and applicable intentional Human Rights conventions and for the crew to be repatriated without delay."

The Reverend Canon Ken Peters from the MtS said: "The crew have been held for more than 500 days, firstly in prison, then on bail, and now just waiting for their passports to be returned.

'Never a threat'

"They have long since had the charges against them completely quashed and they need to get back to their anxious families."

Although the charges were dropped, Indian police have asked the country's supreme court to consider an appeal.

Speaking to the BBC via Skype, Paul Towers said he wanted the matter "cleared up" by the Foreign Office.

Image copyright SKYPE
Image caption Nick Dunn said he felt "stuck in limbo"

He said: "It has been recognised that we were never, and have never been a threat, to the good people of India.

"We can only ask that the British government robustly challenge the Indian government.

"I can't verbalise after 17 months how desperate myself and the men feel, the stress this has placed upon us and the heartbreak and the fear the families are enduring throughout this process.

"In some ways I said the men in prison were better off than our families because we were together, even though we were suffering from infectious diarrhoea, sickness, dehydration."

Nick Dunn said the men were "stuck in limbo" with very little support.

He said: "I'm getting really anxious, I want this to come to an end, it's gone on too long."

He added he hopes a visit from the Foreign Secretary to India will resolve the situation.

A spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said the men's case is "continually being raised at the highest levels".

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