Seafarers Imprisoned in India

Dec 3, 2013

by Douglas B. Stevenson, Director, Center for Seafarers’ Rights

Background

In September 2011, the President and Executive Director of the Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI) and I met with the wives of Ukrainian seafarers held hostage by Somali pirates on the MV Blida. SCI became involved in the case earlier that year at the request of the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We immediately contacted the vessel’s managers in Greece and offered our support, and we provided them with SCI’s Guidelines on caring for seafarers affected by piracy. Mrs. Vera Dudnik, wife of MV Blida Captain Valentyn Dudnik, also requested our assistance. Through Mrs. Dudnik, we assisted the crewmembers’ families, serving as a sounding board and helping them deal with the frustrations surrounding their loved ones’ lengthy captivity.

In November, after 11 months, Captain Dudnik and his crew were released from captivity. SCI continued to assist the crew with matters of compensation (for personal property stolen by the pirates) and reimbursement (for medical care resulting from captivity). Attorney Jason Barlow and his Norfolk, VA law firm Troutman Sanders assisted the crew by providing many hours of pro-bono legal assistance. Unfortunately, the vessel’s owner has yet to provide compensation to the crew for their stolen property or medical care.

SCI is again assisting Captain Dudnik and his family but in another unfortunate matter.

Ship’s Crew Incarcerated by Indian Authorities

On October 12, 2013, Indian authorities detained the MV Seaman Guard Ohio, under the command of Captain Dudnik, off the coast of India and escorted the ship to the port of Tuticorin, an industrial city in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. On October 18, all 35 crewmembers were arrested and charged with illegally carrying weapons in Indian waters.

A United States-owned private security company that provides protection from Somali pirates operating in the Indian Ocean, AdvanFort, operates the MV Seaman Guard Ohio. The MV Seaman Guard Ohio serves as an accommodations platform for privately contracted security personnel between transits on commercial vessels through high-risk areas. They routinely carry uniforms, protective equipment, rifles and ammunition. The vessel’s crew included 10 seafarers (two Ukrainians and eight Indians) and 25 security personnel (six British, 14 Estonian, one Ukrainian and four Indian citizens).

AdvanFort disputes the charges against the vessel and its crew. It claims that the vessel was operating in international waters and entered Indian territorial waters only at the request of the Indian Coast Guard to take shelter from cyclone weather conditions in the Bay of Bengal. AdvanFort claims it properly registered all of the weapons on board the MV Seaman Guard Ohio.

Privately contracted security personnel, like those aboard the MV Seaman Guard Ohio, are credited as one of the main factors in eliminating successful Somali pirate attacks this year. The crew of the MV Seaman Guard Ohio—some of the very people who have provided reassurance and security for seafarers sailing in the Indian Ocean region—are now languishing in an Indian jail like common criminals while India and AdvanFort try to resolve their differences in the Indian courts.

This detention is especially ironic and difficult for the vessel’s master, Ukrainian Captain Valentyn Dudnik. In 2011, when Captain Dudnik was master of the MV Blida, Somali pirates captured and held him and his crew hostage under horrible conditions for 11 months. After his release, Captain Dudnik went back to sea to help ensure that no other seafarers would endure what he suffered at the hands of Somali pirates.

We urge appropriate officials in India to release the MV Seaman Guard Ohio crew from imprisonment while India and AdvanFort resolve their dispute.