Madras court frees crew members of private security company


EK Nandakumar, senior counsel and senior partner at Kochi-based Menon & Pai, and Thushara James, a Kochi-based lawyer, represented 23 foreign nationals who were recently acquitted of charges under the Arms Act, 1959, by a single judge of Madras High Court.

Twelve Indians involved in the case were also acquitted. They were represented by T Mohan, a Chennai-based lawyer.

The foreign nationals – six Britons, 14 Estonians and three Ukrainians – and the Indians had been onboard the anti-piracy vessel MV Seaman Guard Ohio which was found to have illegally entered Indian waters with a cache of arms and ammunition in October 2013.

A trial court in Tuticorin in southern Tamil Nadu in January 2016 had found them guilty of charges under the Arms Act and sentenced them to five years in prison. R Subramaniya Adityan, a Tuticorin-based lawyer, had represented them at the trial court.

MV Seaman Guard Ohio, a Sierra Leone-registered ship chartered by a US company, AdvanFort International, was a floating platform that provided accommodation to AdvanFort’s counter-piracy guards. It had been drifting in Indian territorial waters after a typhoon struck the east coast of India. Alleging that arms were stored illegally on board and that there had been illegal bunkering of fuel within the territorial waters of India, the 35 people onboard were charged under the Arms Act, and the Essential Commodities Act, 1955.

A quash order passed by Madras High Court (in Mariya Anton Vijay v State), which dismissed the criminal charges, was challenged by the Tamil Nadu Police in the Supreme Court. James told India Business Law Journal that she and Nandakumar had also represented the foreign nationals in Madras High Court when it passed the quash order.

Hari Narayan, a partner at Kochi-based United Maritime Law Chambers, said that he represented MV Seaman Guard Ohio and its crew – except the 14 Estonians – in the Supreme Court.

Acquitting the 35 men, Justice Basheer Ahamed of Madras High Court held that the prosecution had failed to prove that the MV Seaman Guard Ohio was within the territorial water limits of India when it was intercepted.