Ship free to set sail, but Indian captain, crew still behind bars in Togo

On Wednesday, Togo naval officials released the detained vessel MT Ocean Centurion, which is now free to set sail with its crew of about 20 Indians. The ship has been anchored at Lome in West Africa, after it was detained a month ago by naval authorities of Togo, while they carried out a probe in connection to the pirate attack.

Captain Sunil James has been languishing in prison for over a month, ever since Togo naval authorities detained him after pirates attacked his ship

Ironically, three of its Indian crewmembers - Captain Sunil James from Mumbai, third engineer Andi Vijayan from Kerala and chief officer Peechuli Chandran Ashok from Chennai - continue to languish in jail in Lome, where they were detained while naval authorities investigated the attack.

MiD DAY had reported on the plight of James and his family back home in its cover story on September 5 (‘Mumbai family waits for sailor languishing in Togo prison’). Aditi, wife of Sunil James, is in constant touch with officials of the Directorate General Shipping in Mumbai, pleading for their intervention in the matter and informing them about the pathetic living conditions in jail.

MiD DAY report on September 5

Aditi said, “In the prison where they are kept, you have to pay even for basic human needs - to use the urinals, to bathe, and even for a loaf of bread. Around 200 US dollars is required every week to ensure that they are not deprived of their basic necessities in jail, and the company Accord Maritime’s management, has been arranging for the same.”

Aditi is also upset at the apathy of the Indian Consulate General in Lome, which has not provided any assistance to her husband till now. “The counsel office has only visited the jail once and has not bothered to take care of my ailing husband in jail thereafter,” she said.

“It is the company’s responsibility to see to it that things move faster and their crew members are released at the earliest. It has already been over a month. While the ship has been released, my husband and his two crew members are still behind bars.” Aditi added that James had called her on Thursday night. “He sounded depressed and anxious for his release,” she said.

James’ family members met with officials of the DG Shipping and representatives of Accord Maritime on Thursday night, in which they were assured that the government had taken serious note of the matter and was looking into it in earnest. Attempts made by MiD DAY to contact Radhakishin Lalwani, Consul General in Lome, did not yield any result.

The attack
Preliminary information has revealed that around 30-35 pirates dressed in Naval commando uniforms and armed with AK 47s and laptops boarded the vessel and took over command of the ship in the wee hours of July 16. The pirates then looted the vessel and personal belongings of the crew.

On July 17, the pirates lowered the lifeboat and disembarked from the ship. The ship was brought to Lome where it dropped anchor. Here, the Togo naval authorities boarded the vessel and conducted an inquiry. Captain K Khambhata of Accord Maritime said, “The Togo authorities are still probing the case and they want to ascertain if the sailors in any way abetted the piracy.”

An official from the Ministry of External Affairs in Delhi said, “We are hopeful of getting some status update on the case soon and are in constant touch with the Indian Consul General in Lome.” 

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