India sentences crew of US-owned ship to 5 years in jail

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NEW DELHI (AP) — An Indian court has sentenced nearly three dozen crew members of an American-owned ship to five years in prison for illegally entering Indian waters while carrying weapons and ammunition, a court official said.

The 35 members of the MV Seaman Guard Ohio's crew can all seek bail, the additional public prosecutor, Sivakumar, said Tuesday. The sentences from the court in the southern port town of Tuticorin were handed down Monday.

The crew includes six British, three Ukrainian and 14 Estonian nationals, as well as 12 Indians, said Sivakumar, who uses one name.

The ship was intercepted in October 2013 by India's coast guard off the southern state of Tamil Nadu, and the crew was arrested after they failed to produce documents allowing them to carry the weapons. Apart from carrying arms illegally, the men were also charged with entering Indian waters without permission.

Sivakukmar said the crew has been out on bail since March 2014.

The ship's captain told investigators that the company provides armed escorts to merchant vessels traveling in pirate-infested waters in the Indian Ocean.

The ship is owned by the Virginia-based security company AdvanFort, but is registered in Sierra Leone. AdvanFort denies the charges.

India has been very sensitive about the presence of armed security guards on merchant ships since the shooting deaths of two fishermen by armed Italian marines in 2012.

The marines were part of a military security team on a cargo ship when they fired at the fishermen, mistaking them for pirates. The two Italians were facing trial in India for the deaths, but a U.N.-mandated tribunal has put that on hold.

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