<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The Madras High Court on Monday set free the 35 crew members including 23 foreign nationals of a private US anti-piracy ship MV Seaman Guard Ohio after the prosecution failed to prove its charge that the ship and its crew were in the Indian waters with unlicensed arms.Justice Basheer Ahamed has set aside the 2016 sentence of a Tuticorin court that awarded five-year jail terms to 10 crew and 25 security guards aboard an American ship that was seized by authorities in Indian waters in 2013. The Madurai Bench of the High Court held that the charges against them had not been proved.The lower court in Tuticorin had found the crew of US company owned ship ‘Seaman Guard Ohio’ guilty of violating Indian laws by possessing weapons. It had also slapped a fine of Rs 3,000 on each of them.Justice Ahamed also directed that the fine amount paid by the crew members be returned.’Q’ branch police had filed the case against the crew members for illegally entering Indian waters with weapons.Flying West African country Sierra Leone’s flag, Seaman Guard Ohio, owned by US company AdvanFort, was found in Indian waters on an October 2013 night, around 15 nautical miles from Tuticorin port. The Indian Coast Guard escorted the ship to Tuticorin port, around 600 km from Chennai.The Coast Guard said the crew included eight Indians and two Ukrainians while six British, 14 Estonians, a Ukrainian and four Indians were among the security guards on the ship and all were arrested after arms and ammunition without valid authorisation or documents was found aboard.The Q branch of the Tamil Nadu police had also alleged that the ship had obtained 1,500 litres of diesel illegally from private sources. The police had said that the entry of the ship was a threat to internal security.The ship’s crew had claimed that the ship had run out of fuel and was stranded. However, the prosecution submitted that had there been an emergency, the Captain could have alerted the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) seeking assistance from the Indian Coast Guard. The Captain chose to lay anchor in Indian waters and buy about 1,500 litres of fuel clandestinely with the help of agents, the police charged.The ship’s owners AdvanFort specialise in providing maritime security against pirates. After the Indian Coast Guard escorted the ship to Tuticorin port, those aboard were questioned by officials of different security departments and agencies.In 2014, the Madras High Court dismissed the charges against the crew and armed guards but reaffirmed charges against the ship’s captain and the fuel vendors.On an appeal by the Tamil Nadu Police, the Supreme Court in 2015 set aside the high court judgment and ordered a trial by the Tuticorin sessions court.
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