Mr Hugo Swire, Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has expressed concerns for the six British sailors imprisoned in Chennai….writes Asian Lite News
In a meeting with newly appointed Indian High Commissioner Mr Navtej Singh Sarna, Swire discussed the issue. Earlier, Prime Minister David Cameron wrote a letter to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi calling for the return of the sailors who have been held in Chennai since October 2013 on charges of illegal possession of a huge cache of weapons.
In a Tweet Swire said: “I raised UK concerns for the British nationals imprisoned in Chennai with the Indian High Commissioner. We are providing support to them.”
The sailors were sentenced to five years in prison on firearms charges after an arms cache was found on their anti-piracy vessel.
The charges were dropped at one stage. But the Indian authorities appealed against that decision and have now won their case.
In the letter to Modi in November 2015, Mr Cameron said the long-running legal case was causing the sailors’ families immense mental agony as well as financial hardships.
The six sailors were working as security guards for AdvanFort, which provides antipiracy protection for commercial vessels, when their ship, moored off the coast of Tamil Nadu, was intercepted by the Indian coastguard on October 12, 2013.
Having escorted the M.V. Seaman Ohio to port, Indian officials found 35 firearms and a huge stash of ammunition, for which police say the crew admitted they had no documents.
The sailors’ families reacted with dismay after earlier hoping that the men would be coming home when charges were dropped at an earlier stage in proceedings, The Telegraph reported.
Campaigners vowed to intensify efforts on behalf of the men, who consistently denied any wrongdoing.
Indian Officials said there were 35 guns, including semi-automatic weapons, and almost 6,000 rounds of ammunition on board the ship which did not have permission to be in Indian waters.
AdvanFort says the ship was detained outside Indian territorial waters, had stopped only to refuel after being affected by a strong cyclone, and had legally purchased and properly documented all weapons on board.
All 35 sailors and guards on the boat received five-year sentences and were ordered to pay 3,000 rupees (£30).
The sentenced men are Nick Dunn, from Ashington, Northumberland, Billy Irving, from Connel, Argyll, Ray Tindall, from Chester, Paul Towers, from Pocklington, East Yorkshire, John Armstrong, from Wigton, Cumbria, and Nicholas Simpson, from Catterick, North Yorkshire.
The court in Tamil Nadu concluded that that the vessel was not properly licensed. The men have 90 days to lodge an appeal. A Foreign Office spokesman said that Britain “cannot interfere in another country’s judicial process.”
He said: “Our staff in India and the UK have been in close contact with all six men since their arrest to provide support to them and their families, including attending court.
“Ministers have also raised this case at the highest levels, pressing for delays to be resolved.