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Friday, July 3, 2015

Supreme Court clears deck for prosecution of crew of MV Seaman Guard Ohio

MV Seaman Guard Ohio – vessel is in news – the ship owned by AdvanFort and used for anti-piracy patrolling, was impounded in Oct 2013; its crew and armed guards detained for wrongful entry into our territory.  The vessel reportedly was having Sierra Leone flag and was equipped with wide array of communication equipments.  When built it was named Kaio Maru, later renamed as Timor Navigator, then to its present name. 

After killing  the notorious extortionist Mayil Vaaganam, Duraisingam is under covert operation; works as an NCC officer in a school in Thoothukudi, where there are many illegal operations of drugs and arms pedalling.  He cuts short the smuggling business and brings down the mafia empire of local goon and drug lord Danny (Danny Sapani) ~that was the storyline of Surya starrer Singam 2.

At Tuticorin, in 2013, local Court remanded three crew members of detained US ship M V Seaman Guard Ohio to five days police custody. After hearing arguments, Judicial Magistrate C Kathiravan sent Lalit Kumar Gurung, Radhesh Dhar Dwivedi (both Indians) and U.K. national Paul Towers to police custody.  The ship and its 35 member crew were detained for illegally carrying arms and ammunition. The bail petitions of all the 35 crew members, was also heard. 

The case has been going on and in Mar 2015 BBC  posted an article stating the version  of the ship's owners AdvanFort  that the vessel had entered the port seeking to refuel and shelter from a cyclone !  As often happens, Human rights organisation too expressed its concern on the judicial action impending stating that the crew had been held for more than 5o0 days.   In July 15, Madras High Court trashed the conspiracy theory and quashed the criminal case against all the 35 crew members, including five Britons. Justice P N Prakash, opined  that they could not be tried under the stringent Arms Act,  and stated that the vessel trespassing to  territorial sea was out of necessity and their action is saved by the principle of 'innocent passage' contemplated by Section 4(1) of the Territorial Waters, Continental Shelf, Exclusive Economic Zone and Other Maritime Zone Act, 1976 and Article 18 and 19 of UNCLOS.

As it could be recalled in Oct 2013, Q -Branch sleuths seized 35 firearms, 5,682 ammunition and 102 magazines kept in the vessel without any document for such possession.  It was stated in the Court that the ship had made a distress entury seeking food and fuel and had admitted to possessing arms and ammunitions.  A person who had carried kgs of mutton, fish, chicken, vegetables and fruit juices too was charged with conspiracy.   Madras High Court pointed that there are private maritime security companies that provide security for merchant vessels while they traverse through pirate infested locations.  On behalf of the owners of the vessel, it was claimed that they were never any threat to the people or the Nation of India.

Now comes the news that the Indian  Supreme Court on Thursday cleared the deck for the prosecution of 35 crew members of the ship M V Seaman Guard Ohio who were arrested for illegally carrying weapons on the vessel and straying into Indian waters and asked a court in Thoothukudi to complete the trial within six months.

The 35 crew members,  had been booked under Arms Act and Essential Commodities Act as the vessel was carrying 35 firearms, 5,682 rounds of ammunition and 102 magazines without any documents and authorization certificates.  Its owners were issued non-bailable warrants by the trial court in the case.

Times of India reports that a bench of Justice Vikramajit Sen and Justice Abhay Manohar Sapre set aside the order of Madras high court, which had quashed the proceedings against the crew members on the flimsy ground that the arms and ammunition on the ship were part of the ordinary armament of the vessel and were exempted under the Arms Act. The apex court said that it was for the trial court to decide after going through all evidence whether the arms and ammunitions were exempted under the Arms Act and the high court crossed the `Lakshman Rekha' in quashing the trial. We find that firstly, there was no evidence adduced by the accused to prove that huge quantity of arms and ammunition including prohibited category of arms which were seized from the vessel formed part of the ordinary armament or equipment of their vessel within the meaning of Section 45(a) of the Arms Act. Secondly , this stage had in fact not reached and in the meantime, the high court interfered with causing prejudice to the rights of the parties and especially to the prosecution, who were unable to prove their case and lastly , in the absence of any finding on this issue, the impugned order cannot be sustained,“ the bench said. The ship crew was also accused of illegal purchase of 1,500 litres of diesel from local agents.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
3rd July 2015.

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