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Madras HC sets aside conviction of US ship crew, frees 35 crew"

Madurai, Nov 27 (UNI) Madras High Court Madurai Bench today set aside the conviction of 35 crew members of the United States-based anti-piracy vessel “MV Seaman Guard Ohio” by a lower court here for unlawfully straying into Indian territorial waters without valid documents and acquitted them from all the charges.
The Indian Coast Guard (ICG) detained MV Seaman Guard Ohio, a Sierra Leone-flagged vessel of “AdvanFort,” the U.S based company that provides maritime security for cargo and merchant ships from Somalian pirates for violating the International Maritime Border rules and straying into Indian waters off Kanyakumari coast on October 12, 2013.
Tamil Nadu Q branch police officials subsequently arrested all the 35 crew members, including 23 foreign nationals under various sections of Arms Act 1959 and the Essential Commodities Act and seized 35 firearms, 5682 ammunitions, 102 magazines, travel documents, logbook and impounded the vessel on October 18, the same year.
Thoothukudi Principal Sessions Court convicted the 35 crew of the ship on January 11, 2016, in one of the few cases of a large number of foreigners convicted in India.
Justice A.M.Basheer Ahamed of Madurai Bench pronounced the judgement, after allowing a batch of appeals filed by the crew members of the ship against the trial court’s verdict sentencing them to five years Rigorous Imprisonment with a fine of Rs 3,000 each.
The prosecution had failed to prove that the ICG intercepted the vessel within the Indian territorial waters, besides failing to prove that the ship had been engaged in any of the activities prejudicial to the peace, good order and security, the judge said in his order.
The Judge said though the prosecution had produced a map pertaining to the location of the disputed vessel, it was not proved by competent witness. It was proved in this case the ship was anchored at the given place on account of distress for want of provisions and fuel. The ship never had intention of visiting Indian ports because the captain was waiting for further instructions and getting for provisions and fuel. It was the ICG which moved the ship from the out-port limit of Thoothukudi into the berth in the port.
The accused are directed to be released forthwith unless their detention is required in connection with other cases, the judge said.
The court also ordered that the seized passports and other documents should be returned to the crew after getting proper application from them.
Out of the 35 crew members, 12 Indians were lodged in Palayamkottai Central Jail in Tirunelveli district, while 23 foreign nationals (14 Estonians, six Britons and three Ukrainians) were in Puzhal prison at Chennai. UNI GSM CS 2215
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