Families’ appeal to their supporters to join them as they hold crisis meeting with Foreign and Commonwealth Minister the Rt Hon Hugo Swire MP
Posted on: 30 April 2016
The British families of the Seaman Guard Ohio crew have called an emergency rally in Carlisle to raise awareness of the plight of their loved ones imprisoned in India. The event is timed to coincide with an important meeting convened with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Minister Hugo Swire MP. The family are calling for urgent action by the UK government to assist them bring pressure to bear on the Indian Authorities, and support them to bring the men home.
The 6 British men were working on board the MV Seaman Guard Ohio as armed guards and maintain they were lawfully employed as security personnel. They insist that they were protecting merchant shipping in the Gulf of Aden against Somali pirates. The vessel was out at sea when the Indian coast guard arrested the ship and brought it into Tuticorin port in Tamil Nadu. 35 men on the vessel were charged with possession of firearms and arrested on 18 October 2013. In January this year they were found guilty of the charges and sent to prison for five years. A fresh legal appeal is in preparation and it is hoped that the case will be heard in June.
Lisa Dunn, sister of Nick Dunn from Ashington Northumberland, said: “The devastating impact this ordeal has had and is currently having on our whole family is indescribable and completely incomprehensible. This has consumed our lives for the last 31 months, and we never believed it could ever unfold in a result of a guilty verdict. The meeting we have with Minister Swire and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is vitally important and gives us, the families, the opportunity to stand united and show that we will not accept this verdict. We are the voices of the men and our men deserve to know what steps are in place now with the British Government to help overturn this horrific miscarriage of justice.”
Ann Towers, wife of Paul Towers (pictured) from Pocklington East Yorkshire, said: “As a family we remain shocked to the core at the horrendous decision that turned our world upside down on the 11 January 2016. The fact that Paul and the other men are imprisoned in poor conditions, in horrendous heat, with little food, breaks our hearts. Our family and friends have been amazing sending food parcels to Paul, to bolster the men’s diet and to keep their spirits and morale up. We hope that the meeting with Sir Hugo Swire will bring us some positive news, instead of hearing again the “we cannot get involved” statement, that the FCO have quoted to us for the past two and half years. We remain focussed on the appeal in June with prayers being said that the truth will out, and our beloved men will be allowed to come home. These are innocent men, and Minister Swire knows this, as does the Prime Minster. There is not a big enough word that expresses our heartfelt thanks and appreciation for all those family, friends, work colleagues and even strangers who have come into our lives and supported and been moved by the men’s plight. Also for those wonderful people who have stood by us loyally with unwavering support for the last two and half long and dreadful years, the Rev Canon Ken Peters and all at The Mission to Seafarers.”
Yvonne MacHugh, partner of Billy Irving from Connel in Argyll Scotland, said: “If you had asked me on this day last year how I felt I would have told you that things couldn’t get any worse….sadly they have, and innocent men are now locked up for a crime the did not commit. We’ve taken the opportunity of meeting with Hugo Swire and the FCO as a chance to show the men, the British government and India that we stand in solidarity. supporting our men, fighting for their freedom, and we will never give up on them.”
Joanne Tomlinson, sister of John Armstrong from Wigton Cumbria, said “After 2 and a half years, we want to keep up the momentum of our campaign to see these innocent men freed and allowed to return home from India. This rally will show the Government that we stand together as strong and determined today as we were 925 days ago when our loves ones were first wrongly arrested in India. We want to show the Government that we stand in unity with support from friends, family and strangers alike and that we will not allow these innocent men to be forgotten. We want my brother John and his colleagues to know that despite being 5000 miles away, we stand beside them every step of the way in this prolonged fight for justice.”
The Revd Canon Ken Peters, Director of Justice and Public Affairs, The Mission to Seafarers, who has been supporting the British families involved in this case since the men were first arrested, said: “This human tragedy drags on and the toll on the men and their families is devastating. I admire the amazing resilience of the men as they try to cope with the situation they are in, even though innocent in both intent and action. They were protecting otherwise defenceless seafarers from pirate attack and yet are unreasonably detained because of a complete lack of understanding as to the safety they were offering. The families are distraught with worry and are frustrated by the slow pace and lack of progress in the legal proceedings. As we are within a month of the High Court appeal there is worry that there will be yet another adjournment with further delays. The additional pressure this brings on the men and their families is another burden. Meanwhile the maritime security company Advanfort that employs the men has failed to pay their wages throughout this time of detention. It has failed to recognise its responsibility and abandoned the men. The financial difficulties compound the suffering and it needs to come to an end without further delay.’
Maritime lawyer, Stephen Askins, with UK firm Tatham Macinnes, who is working on the case, said: “The fact is that floating armouries are widely used in the maritime industry; there were weapons on board, but they are strictly controlled, stored and accounted for in the same way as when arms are legitimately stored in a military armoury. Ships with weapons stored on board go in and out of Indian ports every single day. The Seaman Guard Ohio went to get fuel and supplies offshore of a port which they are entitled to do under international maritime law and is an everyday necessity. Ships, like cars, need fuel. But the vessel was detained and brought into port. The men have been charged with possessing unlicensed weapons in the territorial waters of India. However, the vessel and the seamen represented no terrorist threat to India or its people at all, and the motivation behind bringing the charges is completely incomprehensible when set in the context of the crew’s primary role which was to protect the world’s commercial shipping fleet. The 35 guards and seafarers on board the vessel were a professional, multinational crew, which also included Indian sailors.”
The other British men imprisoned in India are Nicholas Simpson, from Catterick North Yorkshire and Ray Tindall, from Chester in Cheshire.
The families are appealing to the public to support them by joining a rally which will be held at Carlisle Scotch Street and which leaves from outside the Debenhams department store at 11am on Tuesday 3 May. It is a short walk to the Halston Hotel where the families will be meeting with the FCO at 1pm.
They have asked that supporters write to their local papers or MP on this matter, particularly those from the shipping and maritime industries who can vouch for the crew. You can talk to families via their Facebook page or on Twitter via #FreeSGO6 and #SeamanGuardOhio.
The families have relaunched a petition which will be handed to Prime Minister David Cameron calling on help for the men and which has now been signed by around 350,000 people. Sign it here.
A national social media campaign #FreeSGO6 has been launched and families hope to raise funds to support the crewmen via The Mission to Seafarers’ JustGiving website. The families have so far raised over £33,000 but hope to raise more as the legal battle continues.