African court hears release plea of jailed Merchant Navy captain

Two days after the death of his 11-month old son, a court in West African nation Togo Thursday heard the sixth release application filed by the family of imprisoned Merchant Navy captain Sunil James. The family has appealed to the court to release Sunil on humanitarian grounds to travel to Mumbai for his son’s funeral.

Sunil, 28, and two of his colleagues have been jailed in Togo since July, after the government there charged them with helping pirates, his family said. Sunil’s infant son Vivaan died Tuesday of septicemia after developing gangrene in his small intestine, his family said. The body has been preserved in the morgue of Cooper Hospital in Andheri (West).

“The five previous applications were rejected because the court wanted to detain him and establish the truth in the case. I have no faith in Togo and will be relieved only when Sunil comes home,” said his brother-in-law Rakesh Madappa.

He said following Vivaan’s death, there had been a flurry of communication from the Indian government, the company that owns the ship and crew management company that Sunil is contracted to.

“All of them said that they are sorry and were looking into the matter,” he said.

In April, Sunil signed a four-month contract with UK-based shipping company Union Maritime and took charge of the vessel MT Ocean (N.B. ship name is Ocean Centurion – Neptune). He is also registered with Mumbai-based crew management firm Accord Marine Management.

In July, his family said, the vessel was attacked by pirates off the west coast of Africa. However, when Sunil decided to stop in Togo on July 31 and report the incident to the authorities, the ship’s crew were themselves arrested. While all other crew members were subsequently released, Sunil, the ship’s master and third engineer remain imprisoned.

Rakesh said while Togo authorities dropped the piracy charge against the three men in September, they had been charged with theft.

Sunil and his colleagues are presently being held at a VIP facility, officials from Accord Marine said. “They are being looked after well and given Indian food three times a day. We have appealed to the court to release Sunil on compassionate grounds. We are hoping that he is released soon,” said Accord Marine CEO Ashok Kumar Srivastava.


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