The 35 men had been charged with possession of unauthorised weapons while patrolling the Indian Ocean
‘Chennai Six’ and other anti-piracy ship crew members acquitted by Indian court
British foreign secretary Boris Johnson welcomed on Monday the news that six British former soldiers who had been in jail in Chennai on charges of illegal possession of arms had been acquitted, along with 29 other men.
The group of 25 men, which also included nationals from Estonia and Ukraine and India, were first arrested by the Indian coast guard in 2013 when the vessel they were on, the MV Seaman Guard Ohio, was intercepted off the southern India state of Tamil Nadu.
On board the vessel were semi-automatic weapons as well as thousands of rounds of ammunition. The operators of the boat claimed that it had been chartered to protect ships crossing the Indian Ocean, which at the time was experiencing a high degree of piracy.
However, the Indian state claimed that the crew did not have the correct paperwork to be holding the weapons and they were arrested, subsequently being released on bail. An Indian court quashed the charges against the crew in July 2014, but the Supreme Court overturned that ruling the following year and ordered their trial which led to them returning to prison.
US maritime security firm AdvanFort, which owns the Seaman Guard Ohio, denied the charges, saying all firearms on board were legally purchased and properly documented.
In London, a spokesman for British prime minister Theresa May welcomed the decision, saying: “The government, from the prime minister down, has worked hard for over four years to support the men and their families and we share their happiness at the court’s decision to give a full acquittal to each of the men.”
Mr Johnson also hailed the news, saying: “Since I became Foreign Secretary, this case has been a top priority for everybody at the Foreign Office and today’s verdict is fantastic news.
“The FCO has worked tirelessly behind the scenes to reunite these men with their families. The importance the UK government places on their case cannot be understated.
“The men, their families and their supporters, who have campaigned unrelentingly, must be overjoyed. I share their delight and I hope they can return home as soon as possible.”