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The Madras High Court today acquitted 35 crew members of a private US ship, who were convicted by a trial court last year, for illegally entering Indian waters with weapons in 2013.
Allowing their appeal, Justice M Basheer Ahamed set aside the lower court's January 11, 2016 order which sentenced the crew to five years rigorous imprisonment. The high court held that the charges against them had not been proved.
The arrested included 10 Indians.
The lower court in Tuticorin had found the crew of US company owned ship 'Seaman Guard Ohio' guilty of violating Indian laws by possessing weapons. It had also slapped a fine of Rs 3,000 on each of them.
Justice Ahamed also directed that the fine amount paid by the crew members be returned.
'Q' branch police had filed the case against the crew members for illegally entering Indian waters with weapons.
The crew, arrested on October 18, 2013, after their ship was intercepted by the Coast Guard off Tuticorin port, were granted conditional bail by the High court Bench here in March 2014.
They were arrested after the Coast Guard found the ship carrying arms illegally in Indian waters off Tuticorin.
They faced charges under the Arms Act and the Essential Commodities Act which was invoked as the ship had allegedly bought diesel from a local agent in violation of law.
US firm 'AdvanFort International', which owns the ship, has maintained that the vessel was involved in anti-piracy operations and had not strayed into Indian waters.