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Scottish pirate patrol seaman to be released

CHARGES against a Scot who was detained in India eight months ago along with 34 fellow members of an anti-pirate patrol crew have been dropped, paving the way for his return home to Scotland.

EFFORTS: Yvonne Machugh, centre, campaigned for Mr Irving's release.
EFFORTS: Yvonne Machugh, centre, campaigned for Mr Irving's release.

The High Court in Madras has quashed charges against 33 of 35 crew and guards on an American patrol vessel who faced allegations of straying into Indian waters and carrying weapons without permission.

The court found there was no case to answer against the men working for a US-based private security firm AdvanFort, who included Billy Irving from Oban.

Operator AdvanFort, which maintains anti-pirate patrols for shipowners, claimed the ship Seaman Guard Ohio was stopped on October 13 last year while it was outside the Indian territorial sea and that the ship only aimed to refuel after a strong cyclone. It also claimed all the firearms on board were legally purchased and properly documented.

In a statement yesterday, AdvanFort said the crew's legal counsel had said the charges against the men and AdvanFort were thrown out by the High Court. Meanwhile, the captain of the vessel can now be bailed.

A lawyer close to the case, who asked not to be named, said: "Charges relating to arms offences have been dismissed or quashed. It seems that there is an issue over bunkering [the process of supplying a ship with fuel], which will affect the captain, although he should now be bailed. There are still a lot of ­bureaucratic hoops to be jumped through to get the guys out."

In March, 33 out of the 35 crew and guards were released from prison on bail conditions they stayed in Chennai and appeared before the Mylapore police every day. The captain and the tactical deployment officer of the vessel were kept in prison as their bail applications were dismissed by the High Court and a lower court.

Yvonne Machugh, Billy Irving's partner, had constantly campaigned for his release since the men were detained last October. She went to Downing Street to hand in a 147,000-name petition calling for Government help.

The Foreign Office yesterday confirmed that Foreign Secretary William Hague had raised the issue of the men's detention earlier in the week during his visit to the country. The men's families are understood to be awaiting confirmation they have been freed before making a statement.

The Foreign Office said: "We are aware of reports of a court decision to quash the charges against the six British nationals. We are urgently seeking official clarification. We continue to offer consular support to the individuals concerned and their families, and raise the case at the highest levels.

"We are grateful to the ­Government of India, the ­Government of Tamil Nadu and the local state authorities for the support and access they have given our consular colleagues."

It added: "The Foreign Secretary raised this case during his call on Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, the appropriate person to raise consular issues with."

AdvanFort chief executive Sam Farajallah said: "This has been a long-awaited for decision and we'd like to thank everyone who had continuous faith in us, offered support and helped us get through this challenge."

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