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India Asks Iran To Release Nearly 40 Indian Seafarers From Custody

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NEW DELHI, May 15: India has asked Iran to release nearly 40 Indian seafarers who were detained from four different merchant ships seized by the Persian Gulf country over the past eight months on different charges, sources said on Wednesday.

Ports, Shipping and Waterways minister Sarbananda Sonowal made the request during a meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian in Tehran on Monday.

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Sonowal was in Tehran where India signed a 10-year contract to operate the strategic Iranian port of Chabahar that will help expand the trade with Central Asia.

Following a request of Iranian side, a meeting was held between Sonowal and Abdollahian where bilateral issues were discussed, sources privy to the development said.

During the meeting, Sonowal requested Abdollahian to release all Indian seafarers who are in Iranian custody.

Abdollahian said Tehran is positive on the release of the Indian seafarers but it is getting delayed as legal procedures have to be followed, the sources said.

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The sources said the Indian seafarers were working in four ships — Steven, Global Cherylyn, Margol and MSC Aries — which were seized by Iran over the past eight months on different charges.

According to the sources, Steven was seized by the lranian Coast Guard on September 12, 2023, for “smuggling” and the crew were also detained.

There were nine Indian crew members on board and it has come down to six now after three of them, along side two other nationals, were taken away by Iranian authorities on April 24 and their whereabouts are still unknown.

Iran is yet to give consular access to the Indian seafarers of the ship and the Indian Embassy in Tehran is in regular touch with Iranian authorities, the sources said.

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Another ship, Global Cherylyn, was seized on December 11, 2023 at Bandar Abbas with 20 Indian crew members and one Bangladeshi. Consular access to the crew was given on March 12, 2024. The vessel was seized on charges of “fuel smuggling”. The issue was raised with the Iranian Embassy and authorities in Tehran.

According to the latest update, the release orders of the seafarers have been signed by a local court but final release depends on the approval of a court in Tehran.

Another vessel, Margol, was seized on January 22, 2024. It has currently one Indian, the vessel’s captain Sujeet Singh. So far, consular access has not been given.  The vessel was seized on charges of “fuel smuggling”. The ship’s 12 Indian crew were already released and they reached Delhi on February 14, 2024.

A penalty of Rs 20 crore was imposed on the captain by the Iranian authorities. Shipping company RPSL is in touch with the Iranian authorities and they have assured the release of the captain by this month.

Merchant ship MSC Aries was seized on April 13, 2024 by Iran for its alleged links with Israel. There were 17 Indian crew.

External Affairs minister S Jaishankar spoke to his Iranian counterpart on April 14 for the release of Indian crew members.

Following the conversation, Indian female deck cadet Ann Tessa Joseph was released and she landed in Kochi on April 18, 2024.

On May 9, five more Indian sailors of MSC Aries were released by Iran.

India has requested the Iranian side for the early release of the remaining Indian crew members of the ship. The Indian embassy is in touch with Iranian authorities and has requested for second consular access, the sources said. (PTI)

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