The Indian coast guard intercepted the privately run MV Seaman Guard Ohio off the coast of Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu state in October 2013.Semi-automatic weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition were found.They were then jailed on charges of smuggling weapons for terrorists, but have been freed today after being acquitted by Madras High Court judges.The group was collected from the prison by British embassy officials and was later seen being driven away.'Officials from the UK embassy came and took them after completing their paperwork,' Murugesan, deputy inspector general of prisons in the southeastern city of Chennai, said.The crew were charged with not having proper paperwork to carry weapons in Indian waters, but India has faced intense diplomatic pressure over the case ever since the sentences were passed in January 2016.Their families say the Chennai Six have been held in 'horrendous' conditions, sleeping on concrete floors, in sweltering heat with inadequate water, prison meals of 'curried slop and rice' and poor sanitation, with toilets being a hole in the floor.
The men were escorted out of Puzhal Central Prison by British consular officials and were taken by car to the Deputy High Commission.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said yesterday: 'Since I became Foreign Secretary, this case has been a top priority for everybody at the Foreign Office (FCO) and today's verdict is fantastic news.'The FCO has worked tirelessly behind the scenes to reunite these men with their families.
The importance the UK Government places on their case cannot be understated.'The men, their families and their supporters, who have campaigned unrelentingly, must be overjoyed.'I share their delight and I hope they can return home as soon as possible.' The 23 foreigners were detained in Chennai's Puzhal prison, while the 12 Indians were at Palayamkottai Central Prison in Tirunelveli.
The southern tip of India is close to major trading routes from Asia to Europe.
The MV Seaman Guard Ohio was chartered to protect ships crossing the Indian Ocean at a time of increased risk from pirate attacks.