Seaman Guard Ohio Appeal Delayed
The Seaman Guard Ohio appeal case has been delayed until June 15. The sitting was to be held at the Madurai branch of the Tamil Nadu High Court on Wednesday.
The men who were on board when the vessel was arrested in Indian waters are appealing a five-year jail term.
The vessel was engaged in an anti-piracy operation in October 2013 when it sailed to Tuticorin, as it was running low on fuel. The prosecution claims that the vessel anchored in Indian waters to refuel.While not certified to enter Indian waters, AdvanFort still transferred $40, 000 to a ship agent India to buy bunkers.
The Indian authorities actually monitored the illegal transfer of bunker fuel to the vessel and witnessed the fuel being spilled into territorial waters. Then the Indians forced the ship to dock at port, and upon boarding found illegal arms on board and arrested the ship and crew. The Sierra Leone-flagged ship had more than 35 firearms, 102 magazines and 5,682 rounds of ammunition on board.
In January, the 35 men (including 23 foreign nationals: six British, 14 Estonian and three Ukrainians) were found guilty of weapons charges and given fines and prison sentences. A five-year sentence was handed down on January 11. Bail was rejected on February 29.
It appears that AdvanFort Company, the vessel’s owners, have done little to help the men. The company’s owners, Samir Farajallah, the company’s chairman and CEO, and his son, Ahmed, who acted as the president of the U.S. based entity, stopped paying the crew’s salaries in November 2013. They have also done little to provide legal assistance insisting that they thought it was their insurance company’s responsibility.
The Mission to Seafarers got financially involved in the case just after the crewmen were arrested in India. The men’s hotel and food were not paid for by AdvanFort after they were release on bail, so the charity stepped in.
Sailors’ Society Support
Before they were sent to Puzhal prison, Manoj Joy, Sailors’ Society’s port chaplain in Chennai, met with the vessel’s Ukrainian Captain and Chief Engineer.
“During the trial, I met them regularly. The Captain told me he had previously survived being captured by pirates and was thrilled when the opportunity came along to be part of an anti-piracy operation. Now they are in Puzhal prison, access to see them is a lot trickier,” he said.
Manoj has travelled to Madurai this week to help lawyers, and he also meets the Seaman Guard Ohio’s Indian seafarers who are imprisoned in Palayamkottai jail.
Manoj has supported the imprisoned seafarers and their families throughout the ordeal and has been helped by Sailors’ Society’s regional superintendent, Joseph Chacko.
The families are too poor to travel to see them, and Manoj acts as a link between the imprisoned crew and their loved ones.
“The men have not been paid in three years; school starts soon and their families are finding it difficult to afford school uniforms and books, let alone the fees. Their families want to know about the men’s wellbeing, as well as the legal course to be taken during the appeal procedure,” he said.
“The families call me regularly and break down on the phone, I tell them not to lose hope.”
As well as struggling with their loved ones’ incarceration, the families are having a difficult time at home. “Their neighbors are suspicious and have branded the men traitors for what they see as anti-national activity,” says Manoj.
“One of the seafarer’s wives has just given birth and I will make the eight-hour trip to support her,” he says. “The seafarers are totally dejected, they were only engaged in protecting other seafarers in the Gulf of Aden from piracy and don’t understand why they’ve been jailed.”