As their British crew mates approach their 1, 000th day in captivity, the Indian and Ukrainian crew of MV Seamen Guard Ohio, who have also been imprisoned in India, continue to be supported by Sailors’ Society.
Their vessel was engaged in an anti-piracy operation in October 2013 and travelled to Tuticorin as it was running low on fuel. Reportedly unaware the fuel used was smuggled, the crew was arrested and during investigations, the vessel’s weapons’ certificates were found to have expired.
In January, the 35 men were found guilty of weapons charges and given fines and prison sentences.
Manoj Joy, Sailors’ Society’s port chaplain in Chennai, has been providing welfare and financial support for the crew and their families throughout their ordeal, as well as helping the seafarers’ lawyers prepare an appeal. The Indian seafarers, who were released on bail in April 2014, were jailed for five years on 11 January this year.
Previously a shipping advisor for an international law firm, Manoj visits the ship’s Indian crew members and Ukrainian Captain and Chief Engineer, who have been split between jails more than 14 hours journey apart.
“The men are distraught and are often in tears, ” said Manoj. “I try to comfort them and tell them that we will do our best to fight their case.”
Of his most recent visit, he said, “The seafarers were very happy to see us. The lawyer was with me and we briefed them about the next stage in court. I told the seafarers that their family members are in touch with me and they needn’t worry about anything. They thanked me for keeping in regular touch with their families.”
The families are too poor to travel to see them and Manoj acts as a link between the imprisoned crew and their loved ones, working closely with the local ITF inspector. He recently visited the wife of one who gave birth whilst her husband was in jail.
“I told the seafarer that I would visit his family to see his child. He was thrilled, but at the same time he was very upset that he has not seen his son. We gave a grant and some clothes for the baby when we visited to help through this time.”
Providing emotional support to seafarers and their families is one of international maritime charity Sailors’ Society’s key missions and, despite the long distances, Manoj is able to provide much needed aid.
Of another family, he said: “His father passed away 10 years ago and his family were counting on him to support them. I told his Mother that I met her son and he is keeping well, she was in tears.
“The families call me regularly and break down on the phone. I tell them not to lose hope.”
In the meantime, the crew and their families await their appeal to be heard.