Estonia's six members of European Parliament have appealed to High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs & Security Policy Catherine Ashton to intercede on behalf of 14 Estonian seamen imprisoned in India connected to their service for a maritime security company.
The MEPs - Siiri Oviir, Ivari Padar, Indrek Tarand, Tunne Kelam, Kristiina Ojuland and Vilja Savisaar-Toomast - said that the crew, of whom 20 are EU citizens, have been kept in "inhuman conditions" for three months.
There have also been concerns over how India is applying habeas corpus, with the men held from October to several days after Christmas before formal charges were filed.
In the latest developments in the case, a court in Tamil Nadu state on January 8 overturned a decision to release them on bail, citing a threat to India's national security. Advanfort, the US-based maritime security company that employed the crew members, also saw its president and CEO leave amid concerns that the legal costs and the impounding of the ship have brought the company near bankruptcy, uudised.err.ee reported several days ago.
The 14 men, many of them Defense Forces veterans, are accused of arms violations in Indian territorial waters while serving on the Seaman Guard Ohio. There are also six British citizens, with the rest of the 35 being Ukrainians.
"I think it is bizarre to hear Indian authorities explain how 35 anti-piracy personnel who put their lives on the line to ensure safety in international waters are a threat to India, with its population of 1.2 billion. Naturally we don't wish to question the competence of the judicial system in India, but sadly the wheels of justice in this case have ignored international law, have been incomprehensible and been based more on emotions than on specific facts," said Siiri Oviir, who initiated the appeal along with Ivari Padar.
The appeal to Ashton also provided the anti-piracy personnel's side of the story. According to their statements, the ship had been in international waters when Indian coast guard ordered them to dock at Tuticorin. After six days laying in port, the men said, they were tricked into leaving the ship under pretense of undergoing a hospital medical examination, but instead they were taken to a police precinct and arrested.
Padar said he hoped the affair was not linked to a case where an Italian naval personnel shot and killed an Indian fisherman by mistake several years ago.