The Madras High Court's Madurai bench today quashed invoking of the Arms Act against the crew of the US-firm owned ship M V Seamen Guard Ohio.
Justice P N Prakash in his judgement on the petitions filed by Dudinik Valentyan, the captain of the ship and other crew to quash the invoking of the Arms Act registerd against them by Q branch police at the Judicial Magistrate Court in Toothukudi district, said "I have no doubt that any foreign ship visiting Indian ports should report to the authorities regarding fire arms as per September 28, 2011 notification by Director General Shipping on the basis of Merchant Shipping (Regulation of entry of ships into ports, anchorages and offshore facilities).
"The ship had made a distress entry into our waters in search of food and fuel. It anchored at the outer limit of Tuticorin port and was waiting for the supplies", the judge said.
"When the Coast Guard questioned them, they admitted that there are fire arms and ammunition on the board of the ship. On going through the evidences collected by police, I do not find any material which disclose the commission of grave offence prejudicial to peace and offences under the unlawful activities (prevention) Act-1967."
"There were no materials to suggest that the ship had come into the territorial waters of this country with ulterior purpose. Hence, the Arms Act against the crew of the ship is quashed." the judge said.
The Coast Guard authorities had detained the ship on October 11 last year off Tuticorin port on charges of trespassing in Indian waters and carrying arms and ammunition without licence. Police arrested the crew members on October 18 and they remained in judicial custody for about six months.
Of the 35, 33 crew members were granted bail by the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court on March 26. The court, however, refused bail to the ship's Captain and Vice-Captain Dudinik Valentyn and Paul David Dennis Towers respectively.
The Judge, while concurring with the submissions of the prosecution that the supplier of fuel has committed offence under the Essential Commodities Control Act, in his order said "I hold that both the Captain of the ship as well as the supplier are punishable under the Essential Commodities and Control Act for the supply of 10 drums of fuel".