Last week, representatives of Estonia once again visited the Estonian ship guards sentenced to prison in India. It remains unknown, however, when the court decision deciding the men's fate can be expected.
"Estonian Ambassador to India Riho Kruuv and Estonia's new honorary consul in Chennai met with the ship guards on April 5," Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Armo Vask told BNS on Tuesday. "They helped solve the ship guards' everyday problems, delivered letters from their family and the men sent letters to Estonia."
The ship guards being held in a prison in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu have been awaiting the decision on their appeal since the end of November, when the court wrapped up the hearings in the Estonian guards' appeal.
"We do not know yet when the verdict will be announced," Vask admitted.
Three and a half years since ship guards' arrest
On Oct. 18 2013, police in Tamil Nadu arrested 35 crew and security personnel on board the anti-piracy vessel Seaman Guard Ohio, including 14 Estonian citizens as well as citizens of the UK, Ukraine and India. They were charged in December of the same year with illegal refueling, illegal handling of firearms and illegal entry into territorial waters, and released on bail in April 2014.
After being handled in various court instances, the case was returned by India's Supreme Court to the Tuticorin Magistrate Court which on Jan. 11 of this year sentenced the men to five years' imprisonment for entering India with weapons. At the end of January, the ship guards decided to appeal the verdict and applied for bail. The bail application was rejected on Feb. 29, but the court decided to continue appeal hearings, which were subsequently postponed multiple times before finally taking place in October and November. The court wrapped up the appeal hearings on Nov. 30.
On Nov. 15, Estonia and India signed an agreement on the transfer of sentenced persons, ratified by the Riigikogu in February 2017, whereby Indian and Estonian citizens sentenced to prison in the other country could serve out their sentences in their respective home country. The agreement cannot be applied to the Estonian ship guards until their sentence has taken effect, however, which means that the ship guards would first have to drop their appeal.
Editor: Aili Vahtla