AN Indian court has granted conditional bail to 33 of the 35 crew and guards, including one Scot, from an anti-piracy patrol boat who have been held in jail since mid-October.

However, the Ukrainian-born captain and the British team leader of the guards must remain behind bars.

It is understood the conditional bail means the men, who were on the US-owned and Sri Lankan-registered Seaman Guard Ohio which had allegedly strayed into Indian waters, will not be able to leave the country.

Loading article content

The news was confirmed by the Mission for Seafarers, which has been visiting the men in India and has organised a fund-raising campaign to support the crew and their families.

The British guards, who are all ex-military, are Billy Irving, 33, of Oban in Argyll, John Armstrong, of Cumbria, Nick Dunn, 28, of Northumberland, Ray Tindall, 38, of Chester, and Nicholas Simpson and Paul Towers of East Yorkshire.

Yvonne Machugh, from Oban, the partner of Mr Irving, was overjoyed at the news. She visited him in the Indian jail recently and was shocked at how poorly he was. She said: "For the first time in over five months it feels like the end of this nightmare is in sight. We have a long way to go, but this is the most progress we've seen to date.

"Just knowing Billy will be out of prison within a few days and no longer being treated like a criminal is a huge relief. I can't wait to get back out to see him, this time without prison bars separating us." AdvanFort, the men's employer and owner of the Seaman Guard Ohio, said the ruling was the result of months of negotiations. It added: "They were arrested for entering Indian territorial waters, although the vessel master insists they were in international waters."