Court Frees Crew of Seaman Guard Ohio
About nine months after an US ship, dubbed 'floating armory', was detained off Tuticorin port in India, the Madras high court quashed the criminal case against its 35 crew members.
The Times of India says Justice P N Prakash made it clear the crew could not be tried under the Arms Act: "I hold that the anchoring of MV Seaman Guard Ohio within our territorial sea was out of necessity and their action is saved by the principle of 'innocent passage'."
The heavily armed vessel, flying a Sierra Leone flag, was taken into port in October last year and subsequently 35 firearms, 5,682 rounds of ammunition and 102 magazines were seized. The crew was then arrested.
Of the 35, 33 crew members were granted bail by the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court on March 26. The court, however, refused bail to the ship's Captain and Vice-Captain Dudinik Valentyn and Paul David Dennis Towers respectively.
Justice Prakash said: "The ship had made a distress entry into our waters for food and fuel. It anchored at the outer limit of Tuticorin Port and was waiting for supplies. When the Coast Guard questioned them, they admitted that there were arms and ammunitions on board. After bringing them to our port for investigation, they cannot be prosecuted for violation of the notification."
His decision recognizes the role of private maritime security companies in protecting merchant vessels transiting pirate infested waters.