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Estonian ship guards detained in Indian prison waiting for court order

The Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has recently mediated the financial aid gathered by their loved ones for the Estonian ship guards anticipating a court verdict in an Indian prison and diplomats have visited the men, but Estonian representatives are still unsure of when the court verdict will be announced.

"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has since June 2015 given unsecured financial aid to the ship guards in the amount of 110,000 Euros for accommodation expenses, emergency medical aid and travel expenses concerning the trial," the ministry's spokesperson Maria Murakas said on Tuesday, July 11.

The same sum was also mentioned by Foreign Minister Sven Mikser in answer to an interpellation in the parliament in January, which means that Estonia has not granted any additional support to its 14 citizens. Mikser said in January that the state will not demand back the loan of the ship guards while they are still in India, but added that the government will discuss the question after the men's return.

Murakas said that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also forwarded the funds raised by the family and friends of the ship guards.

"The Estonian Consul in India last visited the ship guards at the beginning of June. Estonian Ambassador to India Riho Kruuv along with Estonia's Honorary Consul in Chennai met with the ship guards at the beginning of April 2017," Murakas said.

At the same time, she said that Estonia has no information on when the court verdict could be announced. "According to information available to the Foreign Ministry, no deadline has been set in the trial for making the decision and we do not know when the verdict will be announced," she said.

Police in Tamil Nadu on Oct. 18, 2013 arrested 35 crew and security personnel on board the anti-piracy vessel Seaman Guard Ohio, including 14 Estonian citizens alongside Britons, Ukrainians and Indians. They were charged in December of the same year with illegal refueling, illegal handling of firearms and illegal entry into territorial waters.

After being handled in various court instances the case was returned by India's Supreme Court to the Tuticorin magistrate court which on Jan. 11 this year sentenced the men to five years' imprisonment for entering India with weapons. At the end of January, the ship guards decided to appeal the verdict and applied for bail. The bail application was rejected on Feb. 29, but the court decided to continue appeal hearings. The hearings regarding the appeal started in the Indian court only in October and the court finished the hearings for the Estonian ship guards' appeal on Nov. 30.

Estonia and India have signed an agreement on the transfer of sentenced people between the two countries, which came into effect at the beginning of March. According to the agreement, Estonia and India can transfer citizens who have not been sentenced to death and who are not guilty of war crimes. The verdict for a person has to be final. One condition of the agreement is that the crime for which a sentence has been given has to be considered a crime in the other country as well. Transfer is allowed if more than six months remains of the sentence to be served.

After transfer, the person has to continue to serve the sentence. The countries have the right to give pardon, grant amnesty or mitigate the sentence in accordance with the country's constitution.

However, the agreement cannot be applied to ship guards until the sentence has taken effect, which means the ship guards would have to drop their appeal.

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