Seaman Guard Ohio Families March for Justice
On Wednesday, families of six Britons imprisoned in the Seaman Guard Ohio affair marched in the streets of Carlisle, England, calling for government action to secure the men’s release.
The British nationals are John Armstrong, Billy Irving, Paul Towers, Ray Tindall, Nick Simpson and Nick Dunn; they served as guards on the anti-piracy armory vessel, which was arrested in an Indian port in 2013.
They were charged for illegal possession of firearms and for illegal refueling, and early this year they were sentenced to five years' hard labor.
The men have maintained their innocence throughout the court proceedings, and they have an appeal hearing set for June 1.
Joanne Thomlinson, a sister of one of the imprisoned men, said that the rally is "important to raise awareness, because still a lot of people don't know about this case. The men have been in prison for four months now . . . we can tell them about this and send photos and newspaper cuttings and show them how much support is out there."
The march complements a meeting the families have arranged with the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Minister Hugo Swire.
Lisa Dunn, sister of John Armstrong, said that “this has consumed our lives for the last 31 months, and we never believed it could ever unfold in a result of a guilty verdict. The meeting we have with Minister Swire and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is vitally important . . . our men deserve to know what steps are in place now with the British Government to help overturn this horrific miscarriage of justice."
The mariner advocacy and support organization Mission to Seafarers has been involved in the case from the beginning, and its director of justice and public affairs, Rev. Canon Ken Peters, said that the men were unjustly convicted and imprisoned. In a statement, Rev. Peters castigated the former operator of the Seaman Guard Ohio, Advanfort: "The maritime security company Advanfort that employs the men has failed to pay their wages throughout this time of detention. It has failed to recognize its responsibility and abandoned the men. The financial difficulties compound the suffering and it needs to come to an end without further delay."
Founder of Human Rights at Sea, David Hammond, says the pastoral care provided by the Mission to Seafarers has been crucial to maintaining the men’s morale. “It’s been a drawn out case,” says Hammond, “and there’s still uncertainty. That’s the terrible part both for the men in India and also their families.”
The families are now pinning their hopes on the final appeal decision on June 1.