The crew and pirate security guards were charged with gunrunning last year
Thirty-five sailors of an American anti-piracy vessel, who were sentenced to five years in jail by a court in Tuticorin last year on charges of gunrunning, have been acquitted by the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court.
On October 12, 2013 the Indian Coast Guard had intercepted the vessel, MV Seaman Guard Ohio, owned by US company AdvanFort on Indian waters close to Tuticorin. The private security guards and crew including 6 Britons, 14 Estonians, three Ukrainians and 12 Indians were arrested.
They were charged with failing to have the proper paperwork to carry weapons in Indian waters.
The ship's crew had claimed that the ship ran out of fuel. The prosecution, however, argued that the crew had arranged to buy 1500 litres of fuel via agents.
The families of six former British soldiers who have been freed have welcomed their release, news agency Press Trust of India reported. "I just feel sheer relief, finally we are getting our family back together," said Yvonne MacHugh, the fiance of Billy Irving, one of the six men. "Finally all the men are going to be home with their families. They have been acquitted of all charges, so they have done no wrongdoing and finally we have proven that," she said.
The court has told the British crew that they can apply to the Indian authorities to get back their passports after which they will be able to travel home to the UK. "They still need to get police clearance before they can come home, so there are steps being taken to try to ensure that everything's in place," said Joanne Tomlinson, the sister of another British ex-soldier John Armstrong.With inputs from PTI