Mystery over detained US ship in India deepens
AdvanFort's Seaman Guard Ohio vessel was impounded by Indian authorities in October 2013 PiracyDaily/WikimediaCommons

Six former British soldiers have been sentenced to five years in prison in India on weapon smuggling charges. The men were arrested while working as anti-piracy security guards for a private ship. They were subsequently prevented from leaving India after being held in 2013.

Indian authorities found 35 guns on board the vessel, including semi-automatic weapons, and nearly 6,000 rounds of ammunition, according to the Press and Journal. A court in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu has upheld claims that the weapons did not have the licence to be moved across Indian waters. However, the accused have denied any wrongdoing and have accused their US employers of not paying them since November 2013.

The case sparked fresh media attention two months ago when the fiancée of one of the former soldiers launched a petition to bring the men home in time for Christmas. Yvonne MacHugh said that she couldn't bear to celebrate their son's first Christmas without her fiancée, Billy Irving. She insisted Irving and the other men had been "wrongly arrested and imprisoned".

In a petition directed at British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, MacHugh, 27, wrote: "It breaks my heart to say that two years on they are still in India and the British Government has done almost nothing to get our boys back."

The Indian government arrested the former British soldiers on 12 October 2013 when they were accused of illegal possession of the weapons. The vessel is believed to have been assisting with anti-piracy protection when it strayed into Indian waters. The US company that owned the boat insists it had the relevant paperwork for the equipment.

The men were said to have been given bail ahead of their sentencing but had their passports confiscated. In November 2014, Prime Minister David Cameron is believed to have written to his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi urging him to release the Britons at the end of their trial.

An update on MacHugh's petition on 17 December 2015 noted that the soldiers' verdict would be delivered on 11 January 2016 and continued to press the UK government to take action. The petition had received more than 250,000 signatures, prompting the men to record a video from India thanking the public for their support.

A fundraising campaign was also set up by one of the accused men, Ray Tindall, urging the public to help contribute towards the cost of their legal fees, as well as their food and accommodation during their detention in India. Nearly £12,000 had been donated to the campaign by the time the verdict was handed out on 11 January 2016.