14 Estonian ship guards acquitted in a Southern Indian court on Monday were released from prison on Tuesday morning, over four years after their initial arrest in October 2013.
"The ship guards were just released and are moving to an accommodation establishment with an Estonian consul," a spokesperson for Estonia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs told BNS on Tuesday.
The ministry representative was unable to say what would happen to the ship guards now, but noted that contact and communication regarding the men would continue.
International media has reported that Indian authorities have a 90-day windiw within to appeal the decision, which could at least initially prevent the foreigners among the ship guards from leaving India.
35 men imprisoned in India were on Monday acquitted of illegally possessing firearms while aboard an anti-piracy boat in Indian territorial waters in 2013.
The six British citizens, three Ukrainians, 14 Estonians and 12 Indians were sentenced to five years in prison by a lower court in the Souther Indian state of Tamil Nadu last January.
The six Britons, three Ukrainians, 14 Estonians and 12 Indians were given five-year jail terms by a lower court in southern India's Tamil Nadu state in January last year.
Four 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 U.K., 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, 2016, 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.
Appeal delayed for nearly year
The handling of the convicted crew members' appeal resumed at the beginning of November, almost a year after the ship guards had presented their arguments in support of the appeal.
R. Subramaniya Adityan, a lawyer for 19 members of the crew, told AFP following Monday's hearing at the Madras High Court that the men "...will be released after the court order reaches prison officials on Tuesday."
23 of the men, including all the Estonians, were held in Chennai's Puzhal Prison, while the remaining 12 were held at Palayamkottai Central Prison in Tirunelveli.
Editor: Aili Vahtla