MADURAI: The state government on Friday strongly objected giving bail to 35 crew members of US-based anti-piracy ship MV Seaman Guard Ohio that had allegedly entered the Indian waters with illegal arms and the person who supplied the vessel with 1,500 litres of diesel.
The investigation agency Q Branch of the CID accused the crew members that they were possessing arms, ammunition and magazines without proper authorisation and further that the vessel had procured 1,500 litres of high speed diesel though local agencies without valid licence.
The petition filed by Captain Dudinik Valentyn and 34 others and the diesel supplier namely R Munithevan came up for hearing before justice R S Ramanathan on Friday.
The crew members’ side told the court that presently the agency completed the investigation and filed a chargesheet.
Besides, among the 35 people, 10 of them are crew members of the ship and others are security guards. In fact, the crew of the vessel had no connection with the arms or the function of the security guards, and there were only under contract employment as seamen of the vessel. As far as security guards were concerned, they took their command from the tactical deployment officer, to whom the company has given directions based on the requirements of the merchant vessels, their side told.
Following it, the state’s public prosecutor (PP) S Shanmuga Velayutham strongly denied them to be released on bail.
“Related documents towards possessing of arms, ammunition and other things which were asked by the investigation agency are yet to be produced by the crew before the investigation. If the court grants them bail, the investigation agency will face difficulty in getting their presence in the case, if need. Such experience has occurred in a case of killing of two Indian fishermen by crew of the Italian ship on Kerala’s coast in 2012,” the PP said.
As far as the diesel supplier Munithevan’s case was concerned, his counsel G Bhagavath Singh said that the petitioner followed all legal procedures to supply diesel to the vessel.
“On October 11, 2013, the petitioner’s agent Antony Vijay handed over a letter to the assistant director of fisheries department which sought permission to supply 10 barrels of diesel by e-mail and on the basis of the officer’s permission only, the diesel was supplied to the vessel. Besides, the petitioner, diesel supplier were not aware of the weapons kept in the vessel,” Singh said.
To this, the PP said that the fisheries’ assistant director refused permission for supplying diesel. “Violating all rules and orders, Munithevan illegally supplied diesel to the vessel. Further granting him bail would make him absconding because he had been evading arrest for more than hundred days, the PP said.
Following the arguments the judge adjourned all matters to March 20.
Maritime Security News Note:
This is awful news for the men involved and their families. Equally bad news is the linking of this case and the killing of two Indian fishermen off the Kerala coast by two Italian Marines in 2012. In that case, the men, Salvatore Girone and Massimiliano Latorre were acting as a military vessel protection detachment on board the Enrica Lexie when they allegedly mistakenly shot and killed two Indian fishermen. The men on board the Seaman Guard Ohio never fired a shot. Their crimes seem to be more to do with paperwork and being in the wrong place at the wrong time, which makes their incarceration in an Indian jail since October all the more upsetting.
That Enrica Lexie case is still waiting to come to trial and has been the subject of significant diplomatic fall out between Rome and New Delhi. It has been suggested in some quarters that the AdvanFort case may also be being influenced by the diplomatic spat between the US and India over the visa fraud case involving Indian diplomat, Devyani Khobragade. It seems unlikely, however, but that’s no comfort to the relatives of ‘the AdvanFort 35’, as they’re now being called.