A court in Tamil Nadu on Monday sentenced 35 sailors, including several from Britain, Estonia and Ukraine, for illegally entering Indian waters carrying weapons aboard a US-operated anti-piracy boat in 2013.
A judge ordered all 35 crew present in the court to serve five years in jail, the prosecutor in the case.
“The convicted crew members can approach the Madras High Court within 30 days for appealing against the verdict,” prosecutor S. Chandrasekar said.
India’s coast guard intercepted the ship off the coast of Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu in October 2013 and arrested and charged the crew for failing to have the proper paperwork to carry weapons in Indian waters.
Almost all of the crew, comprising six Britons, three Ukrainians, 14 Estonians and 12 Indians, were given bail in 2014 on the grounds they remained in the state capital Chennai. The captain, a Ukrainian, and another officer from Britain were refused bail and remained in prison.
US maritime security firm AdvanFort, which owns the Seaman Guard Ohio vessel, denies the charges against its crew, saying all firearms on board were legally purchased and properly documented.
The southern tip of India is close to major trading routes from Asia to Europe and many cargo ships have armed guards and vessels to deter pirates.
The British High Commission in Delhi told AFP it would continue to provide consular assistance to all six of its nationals but “we cannot interfere in another country’s judicial process”.
An Indian court quashed charges laid against the Seaman Guard Ohio crew in July 2014, but the Supreme Court overturned that ruling the following year and ordered their trial.
The fiancee of one of the men sentenced, Scottish former paratrooper Billy Irving, said the sentencing is a “massive miscarriage of justice”.
Yvonne MacHugh has also called on the UK Government to step in to get Mr Irving and the five other Brits held, to be released.
Mr Irving, 35, was released in April 2014 following a long battle by lawyers and the men’s families.
Despite the release Mr Irving was forced to remain in India while his lawyers fought to have the charges dropped.
Many of Mr Irving’s supporters had been expecting the charges to finally be dropped on Monday.
Ms MacHugh, who have a ten-month old son with Mr Irving, told STV News that Mr Irving broke the news to her in a tearful Skype call on Monday morning.
“This is completely unexpected. It’s just biggest shock ever and I still can’t believe it’s happened. All the weapons were legal, they had all the permissions and all the paperwork was handed in to the courts. I cannot understand how they’ve come to this conclusion, there’s absolutely nothing to say they’re guilty”, she said.
“You expect a trial to be fair but this has not been in the slightest. It’s corrupt. The Indian media have blown this up into a huge story and have been calling the men spies, smugglers and terrorists over there.”
Ms MacHugh also claimed AdvanFort has “abandoned” the men.