Indian sailors held in Togo freed after five months

Indian sailors in TogoCaptain Sunil James’s wife (centre) with relatives on Thursday

The Togo government on Thursday released two Indian sailors, Sunil James and Andi Vijayan, who were detained in July on charges of abetting piracy. The duo are expected to return on Friday afternoon. However, their third colleague, Ashok Chandran, will remain in Togo to face a special trail that will begin on December 23.

While James is a resident of Mumbai, Vijayan hails from Palakkad in Kerala. James's family has been actively campaigning for his release since the death of his 11-month-old son Vivaan earlier this month. The body has been kept at a hospital morgue as the family wants James to perform the last rites.

"It has been confirmed that at 2.35 am IST, Captain Sunil James was released from Togo," said Rakesh Madappa, brother-in-law of James. The release came after Indian High Commissioner to Ghana, K Jeeva Sagar, met Togo President Faure Gnassingbé on Wednesday.

"We were informed early in the morning and are grateful to the Indian high commission in Ghana. None of us expected it... Once he is back, we will bury Vivaan either on Saturday or Sunday," said Madappa.

According to reports, James, skipper of the MT Ocean Centurion, had stopped in Togo in July to report an attack. However, the Togo Navy locked up the crew on charges of aiding the pirates. While 22 crew members were later released, James, Vijayan and Chandran were detained to undergo special trail.

"Vijayan was suspected as his brother was the leader of a band of pirates that attacked MT Ocean Centurion. The Togo government will follow their procedure," said Captain Nilesh Gandhi of Accord Marine Management Private Limited, a crew management firm that the three Indians are contracted to.

The duo's return is permanent and was secured after high level intervention by the Indian government. "We are happy for their families and grateful to the government for securing their release," said Captain Gandhi. "They are expected to return at 2.10 pm on Friday. James will land directly in Mumbai while Vijayan will take a flight to Chennai from Delhi," he said.

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