Ship guard saga: families find fault with foreign ministry

Laevakaitsjate toetuseks kogunes täna välisministeeriumi juurde paarkümmend inimest meelt avaldama.

PHOTO: Tairo Lutter

Those closest to 14 Estonian ship guards held in India for over a year are disappointed in activities of foreign ministry, with the men still unable to come home.

The pirate hunters based aboard the AdvanFort owned vessel Seaman Guard Ohio, including 14 Estonians, were arrested by Indian authorities in October 2013 and thrown in jail. Half a year later, they were set at liberty against bail and this July the accusations towards them were withdrawn. Even so, together with Britons and Ukrainians, the Estonians still have to live in miserable conditions in India as the country is not letting them leave. The ship guards and those closest to them think, however, that the men would be home already if foreign ministry had acted in a manner more competent after they were judged not guilty.

«Till the second half of October I believed the foreign ministry had done all they could to help the men. I don’t remember the exact dates any longer, but somewhere around October 20th, the families got word that Indian Supretem Court had sent court materials to home addresses in Estonia, England and Ukraine. That made [me] wonder,» said Maret Veikat, mother of one of the guards still in India.

According to her, they afterwards received word by the lawyer representing the ship guards in Indian Supreme Court stating there was no legal basis to make the men stay in India during the court proceedings. «I also recalled the question posed by judge at Madurai highest court to lawyer Tushara (the former lawyer – T.R.) who asked why aren’t these men going home? At the moment, I thought the judge was not aware of the situation. These things put together serve to certify there’s no need for them to be in India. Till the foreign ministry has not referred to the Indian legal provision forbidding the men in such a situation from leaving India, we regard this a failure at fulfilling consular obligations.»

According to foreign ministry, in cooperation with Estonian embassy in New Delhi they have done all in their power to get the Estonians home as fast as fast as possible. «On this subject, we have also had communication and discussions with European Union member states and inquired about their experience with communication with Indian authorities and their legal system. On the basis of that we are able to claim the proceeding of the case thus far has been legal and, in Indian terms, even fast. Meanwhile, we need to keep in mind that there are limits to what the foreign ministry can do. It is not possible for us to interfere with administration of justice in another country, just as Estonia is not allowing other countries to interfere with our administration of justice. Up to now, the Indian court proceedings have corresponded to Indian laws and administrative practice,» said foreign ministry press representative Mariann Sudakov.

The ministry did not answer the question posed by Postimees – Why did Indian Supreme Court send the men’s court materials to Estonia? – but in a letter sent to the families vice chancellor Marina Kaljurand assumed the documents were sent to the addresses presented by the men as they were arrested last year.

In an interview to Postimees, Estonia’s consul in India Mats Kuuskemaa as assisting the ship guards on location laid out reasons why, in his opinion, the Estonians have not yet been unable to return home. A day later, however, he withdrew a large part of what he had said, citing that as a representative of Estonian state it is not befitting for him to thus voice his opinion.

Meanwhile, those closest to the 14 Estonian citizens aren’t comforted by explanations of foreign ministry. While in India, the pirate hunters are having to live on money sent by those closest to them or loaned by foreign ministry. Which is not much. The men are not able to work in India as that would take a residence and work permit, which they are being denied.  

«It is not possible that a police in a country has so much power as not to return these men their passports – with the visa, on top of that, to leave the country. One cannot ask India anything, one must demand things of India; alas, this the foreign ministry is unwilling to understand or, for some reason, is opting not to do,» said Kersti Eenok, a lady living with a ship guard held in India.

According to the foreign ministry press representative, despite the many attempts the lawyer has not succeeded in applying for the documents to be released and by now it is obvious that the documents will not be released till the court process regarding the med is finalised. «Such measures during court procedures are not extraordinary in India. This has also been confirmed by other EU states’ experience in India,» said Ms Sudakov.

The one year plus saga of the ship guards may not end anytime soon as several court sessions may yet be in store. «According to the legal opinion by consul Mats Kuuskema and according to dates compiled by me, the Supreme Court process till the decision is taken may take till Midsummer Day 2015,» said Ms Veikat.