The following is the text of a news release from the International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots:
(LINTHICUM HEIGHTS, Md.) — The International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots (MM&P), the world’s pre-eminent professional merchant mariners’ organization, is protesting the Indian government’s treatment of 35 U.S. anti-piracy ship crew members who say they are being subjected to inhumane conditions in a Chennai (India) prison where they are deprived of proper medical treatment, bathing facilities and adequate food and, following their arrests for allegedly, illegally carrying weapons and straying into domestic waters, the men have been denied bail three times by the court.
In court documents, the captain of the MV Seaman Guard Ohio says he was duped into leaving international waters by Indian Coast Guard officials who warned that the ship was in danger due to an impending cyclone. Once inside Indian territory the ship was no longer protected by the international laws, therefore, having the weapons aboard the vessel, without proper documents, violated Indian law.
MM&P is the largest organization to join the mounting international outcry for justice for the detainees. MM&P’s members include Captain Richard Phillips, whose at-sea piracy hostage drama is portrayed in the Academy Award nominated film “Captain Phillips,” featuring actor Tom Hanks.
The crew of the MV Seaman Guard Ohio, owned by AdvanFort Security Corporation of Herndon, Va., just filed a new bail application in hopes it will be heard in an Indian courtroom, later this month. AdvanFort provides armed escorts to merchant vessels traveling in the Indian Ocean’s pirate-infested waters. The bail application details the brutal treatment of the prisoners, including their deteriorating health due to malnutrition, unsanitary conditions, mental harassment and emotional trauma, which they have endured since their arrests more than four months ago.
“This is an outrage — a violation of every civilized standard,” says Captain James Staples, an MM&P senior advisor and spokesperson. “The circumstances surrounding the arrests is circumspect and the manner in which authorities are treating the crew is disconcerting.” He continues, “For example, the men were imprisoned for two months before they were formally charged.” Staples adds, “The harsh tactics may likely stem from the Indian Coast Guard’s and Navy’s disdain for the presence of foreign forces and private security patrols off the country’s coastlines because it conveys a message that the government is unable to defeat the pirates, which is an accurate picture.”
Staples is amongst the world’s leading anti-piracy and ship security training experts and a maritime regulations scholar who teaches an array of courses at MM&P’s Maritime Institute of Technology and Graduate Studies in suburban Baltimore. MM&P members are all collegiate-level graduates of U.S. merchant marine academies. Thousands MM&P members command cargo ships, fuel tankers and other deep-water vessels around the globe. Captain James Staples was a classmate of Captain Richard Phillips at Massachusetts Maritime Academy. The commanders and crew of the Seaman Guard Ohio are not MM&P members.
According to court documents, on October 12, 2013, an Indian Coast Guard cutter intercepted the Ohio after it allegedly unlawfully obtained 10 barrels of diesel fuel in, what the government contends, was a clandestine manner. Indian authorities say the fuel was loaded on a fishing boat and taken out to sea to the Seaman Guard Ohio.
According to published news reports, AdvanFort president William Watson says, "The Indian Coast Guard approached the ship and asked it to follow a cutter to the port. We would never have entered Indian waters otherwise.”
In court documents, the “Ohio’s” Captain Dudinik Valentyn claims the anti-piracy vessel was “lured into the port by treachery.” The ship was 19 nautical miles off the Indian coast, beyond territorial jurisdiction. He adds, “The vessel was asked to come to the port and take shelter to escape from cyclonic weather conditions in the Bay of Bengal.”
Once in the port, 25 officials from eight different law enforcement agencies converged on the vessel; confined all crew members and guards; and falsely claimed that the ship was intercepted, according to AdvanFort.
Police seized 35 automatic weapons and nearly 5,700 rounds of ammunition from the security guards on the ship.
Eight crew and 25 security guards aboard the vessel were arrested after they failed to produce documents allowing them to carry the weapons, according to Indian authorities.
Staples emphasizes, “Arresting the crew and guards is unprecedented. Typically, only the captain is held responsible for improper documentation.”
The ship had 10 crew members and 25 armed security guards from Britain, Estonia, India and Ukraine. Two of the crew members were not arrested and allowed to remain aboard the ship to carry out maintenance work. None of the men are Americans.
The company contends the vessel was “not involved in any activity prejudicial to the safety and security of the court” and based on the Doctrine of Innocent Passage as envisaged in Section three of the United Nations’ Convention on the Law of the Sea, 1982, no charge could be levelled against the crew or the vessel for violating the rules and regulations of India.
Staples says, “India has reason to distrust then presence of foreign armed forces and private security details. Last year, armed Italian Marines, guarding a cargo ship, fired on local fishermen, mistaking them for pirates. The two Italians are facing trial in India for the deaths of the fishermen.” Staples adds, “However, the case of the Seaman Guard Ohio, smacks of discrimination.”