Heroes Unjustly Imprisoned in the Line of Duty
In the ancient Hindu texts of the Bhagavad-Gita, the story of the hero Krishna begins with a great injustice. A demonic king named Kansa deposed his own father in order to rule the kingdom of Mathura for himself. Believing a prophecy that the offspring of his sister and soon to be Krishna’s mother Devaki would be the end of him, he callously imprisoned her. It is with great sadness then, that the beautiful land of India has borne another story of spurious incarceration; yet this one is within our lifetime, in fact it is happening right now.
In October of 2013, the crew of the anti-piracy vessel ‘MV Seaman Guard Ohio’ were risking life and limb in the earnest defence of high-seas shipping lanes, the very veins of global commerce and industry, against the threat of determined and ruthless criminals. At the time, piracy in and around the Indian Ocean posed a significant risk. High profile incidents such as the hijacking of the super-tanker ‘Sirius Star’ caused great concern, and the International Maritime Bureau reported a 200% increase in East African piracy since it began monitoring such incidents in 1992. Amongst the protectors on the MV Seaman Guard Ohio were six British maritime security specialists, hard-working family men with 74 years of public service under Her Majesty’s Armed Forces between them.
During the course of their arduous task they were forced to seek emergency fuel supplies and so took shelter near the waters of Port of Tuticorin. This simple act of self-preservation was to be the beginning of a terrible turn of events that has, unbelievably, seen the six British men jailed in the notorious Chennai Puzhal prison for 2 years and over 4 years detained in India itself.
The turn of events leading to their arrest is confounding, with differing accounts coming from the main actors involved including the Tamil Nadu police and the private security company responsible for the ‘MV Seaman Guard Ohio’. What is clear is that Indian authorities boarded the vessel and accused those on-board with entering Indian territorial waters, whilst carrying weapons, without express government permission. Subsequently they filed an FIR, a ‘First Information Report’ against all the 35 crew members under the Arms Act and also Essential Commodities Act for buying 1,500 litres of diesel illegally with the help of a local shipping agent.
The worried, yet stoic family members of the men, who came to be known by the world as the ‘Chennai Six’, quickly set about drawing attention to their plight, with ranks of concerned citizens signing petitions and lobbying British MPs to communicate with their Indian counterparts. A ray of hope came in July of 2014, when an Indian court dropped charges against the men, yet this was to be quashed quite quickly as Indian authorities retained the passports of the former soldiers whilst on bail. Indian police then went on to lodge an appeal with the supreme court which in turn, passed the case back to a magistrates court in January 2016. At this point the crew were charged, fined and imprisoned despite protests from organisations such as the ‘Mission to Seafarers’ who verified that the crew carried arms in accordance with international maritime law for the purpose of ensuring the safety of merchant fleets against the very real threat of pirate attack.
The crew, who were simply carrying out their duty, now endure punishment that most societies don’t even visit upon their most reprehensible criminals. Not only are they living in terribly poor conditions side by side with murderers and deviants of all kinds, they suffer the constant psychological stress of being unable to see their loving families. They are denied the valuable moments with them, birthdays and special occasions, that so many of us cherish. These proud men, heroes and veterans of modern conflicts, have proven that they would stand to defend the citizens and ideals of the United Kingdom in a heartbeat; and yet they are denied the inviolable right to watch their children grow, to guide and support them.
Financially too they have been unfairly hindered, they have not received a wage from the company they worked so hard for, Advanfort, since they docked for shelter on the fateful night of October 12th 2013. I ask you for one moment to imagine how it must feel to be in their shoes, to feel absolutely hamstrung by injustice and abandoned by a society that you, as a decent law-abiding man, have given so much to protect.
It is imperative that they know there is light at the end of this tunnel. There are many ways to make a difference to the lives of the Chennai6, to let them know people value their contributions to our country and want to see justice prevail with their release. I would like to thank the Propeller Club Liverpool, a network of maritime commerce and industry professionals, for their continued support. In a touching gesture they recently made the Chennai 6 ‘Maritime Personalities of the Year’ for their sheer resilience in the face of adversity. I would also like to thank all those that supported me on my 10K Charity Run in India, whose generosity raised £4.5k to help with family visits to the country.
It brings hope and faith to me that so many people have started to take notice of this injustice and want to help the Chennai 6, and it is needed because any right thinking person cannot help but feel outrage and dismay at the miscarriage of justice they face. The subject is an emotive one, however, all that is truly needed is a turn towards common sense.
I was left incredulous at the state of things earlier this week, when upon reading in the worlds media that fifteen Somali pirates were to be freed after just six years following their conviction for the hijacking of a vessel and the taking of 20 fishermen as hostages in 2011. Can it make any sense that the Chennai 6 be incarcerated for longer than convicted pirates?
It is India’s right to preserve its border security and sovereignty, vigilance is not only necessary but admirable in the security climate of today. However, it is clear for anyone to see that the Chennai 6 are not gun-runners and a military coup hardly be staged with the few rifles they had on-board. The Chennai 6 should not be punished for the decision to seek refuge in adverse weather and in need of fuel, a decision which was out of their hands. Nor should seafaring men and women ever be left to languish in prison because of political point scoring. Seafaring has always been a difficult but vital job, it is not by organisations and companies that it is made possible, it is made possible by resilient and hardworking people like the Chennai 6. It is time they were brought home to their families and the nation they once protected.
Nick Simpson - Former Yorkshire Regiment
John Armstrong - Former Parachute Regiment
Ray Tindall - Former Yorkshire Regiment
Billy Irving - Former Parachute Regiment
Paul Towers - Former Parachute Regiment
Nick Dunn - Former Parachute Regiment
I ask you to consider supporting them in any way you can, please visit http://chennai6.co.uk/ for more information.
With the support of Human Rights at Sea, Global Maritime Recruitment Solutions & Whittaker & Co, we will be launching an awareness film at London International Shipping Week 2017 next month.
Thank you all for your continued support in helping us fight for justice for the #Chennai6