British anti-piracy guards held in India granted bail

MV Seaman Guard Ohio The MV Seaman Guard Ohio was detained in October

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Five out of six British men who have been held in India since October on suspicion of illegal possession of guns and ammunition have been granted bail.

The men were among the 35-strong crew of a US-owned anti-piracy support vessel detained in the Indian port of Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu, on 12 October.

A judge has now granted conditional bail to 33 of the men, including Billy Irving, 33, from Connel in Argyll.

One of the British men and the vessel's Ukrainian captain remain in jail.

Mr Irving was arrested on 12 October along with Nick Dunn, from Ashington, Northumberland; Ray Tindall from Chester; Paul Towers from Pocklington, Yorkshire; John Armstrong from Wigton, Cumbria, and Nicholas Simpson, from Catterick, North Yorkshire.

All six men worked as anti-piracy guards for the US-based maritime security company AdvanFort.

Firearms allegations

According to the firm, and a report on the Times of India website, Mr Towers is the British man who has not been granted bail, alongside the ship's captain Dudinik Valentyn.

The crew have been in prison in India since 24 October.

They were on board the MV Seaman Guard Ohio when the ship was detained in the port of Tuticorin for allegedly illegally straying into Indian water.

Billy Irving Billy Irving was arrested and imprisoned in India while working on the US-owned ship

All 35 crew and security guards were arrested - the guards on suspicion of unauthorised possession of 31 assault rifles and 5,000 rounds of ammunition.

The Indian authorities said they had intercepted the ship and found weapons and ammunition on board which had not been properly declared.

AdvanFort said India's coastguard and police had allowed the ship into the port to refuel and shelter from a storm. It said all weapons had been properly registered.

Earlier this month, relatives of the six British guards delivered a petition to Downing Street, with more than 136,000 signatures calling for their release.

It also called on the government to act as a guarantor for the men if they were bailed.

Bail conditions

The men, and dozens of others on board the vessel, have now been granted conditional bail.

Mr Irving's partner, Yvonne, said she was still waiting to hear the details, but it was understood the men would be freed on Friday - after which they would have to remain in India.

A spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: "This is a difficult and important case, which the Prime Minister has raised with Indian Ministers, as has the Foreign Secretary, and Minister Swire.

"The High Commissioner has also raised it with the Indian authorities in India. We will continue to do all that we can.

He added: "While we are unable to demand the release of British nationals, or interfere in another country's legal processes, we continue to make very clear our interest in this case, and the importance of ensuring that it is resolved as quickly as possible."

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