Killing Of Fishermen: Italian Navy Men Charged
KOCHI/NEW DELHI: A case of murder was filed against armed guards of an Italian tanker less than 24 hours after they fired on a fishing boat, killing two Tamil Nadu fishermen off Kochi on Wednesday.
Indian authorities said the Italian navymen mistook the fishermen for Somali pirates and fired instantly in violation of international anti-piracy guidelines - a claim denied by Italy.
The FIR did name anyone in particular.
"It's a very serious and unfortunate incident," defence minister A K Antony said. Italian envoy Giacomo Sanfelice di Monteforte was summoned to the external affairs ministry to convey India's protest. In Kochi, senior Italian officials met Kerala government representatives to decide the future course of action and how to quell the uproar among fishing community in the state.
This came shortly after the ministry of external affairs summoned Italian envoy Giacomo Sanfelice di Monteforte to register a strong protest against the shooting. Secretary (west) M Ganapathi told the ambassador he must ask the Italian nationals involved in the incident to cooperate with the local Kerala authorities carrying out the probe.
With Enrica Lexie now anchored off the Kochi harbour, after being intercepted by Coast Guard ships and aircraft, its crew will be provided consular access after completion of legal formalities, officials said. Indian authorities can legally prosecute the crew if the shooting took place within the 12 nautical mile limit of Indian territorial waters. But it will become a slightly tricky affair if it's conclusively established that the incident occurred in international waters, in which case they may have to face the music in Italian courts.
"The probe will include where exactly the incident took place. And whether the Italian nationals were carrying licensed weapons or not. If someone travels within the Indian territorial waters, he or she is supposed to take prior license to carry weapons," said an official.
Naval and Coast Guard officials, on their part, said the Italian ship did not seem to have followed the internationally laid-down protocol, or "best management practices", if it suspected a pirate attack. "First, the ship being waylaid should activate the emergency communication plan to report the attack, activate the ship security alert system, sound emergency alarm and make 'Mayday' calls on the open VHF Channel 16 or Channel 08," said an official.
But no Indian warship patrolling the area got such a distress call from Enrica Lexie. "Then, there are evasive measures and manouevering, as also the use of water sprays and cannons to thwart any pirate from boarding the ship," he said.
Enrica Lexie, however, does not seem to have undertaken such measures. "It prima facie seems the Italian ship, instead of first resorting to passive measures, directly engaged in active measures by opening fire," he said.
The Italian ambassador, however, strongly maintained the ship had adhered to the international protocol. "We are working in very close cooperation with Indian authorities. It is in any case a very sad incident. What I want to underline is that the Italian ship moved voluntarily into the Kochi port," he said.
Earlier in the day, the Italian embassy claimed the Italian navy personnel on board Enrica Lexie fired warning shots after being allegedly attacked in international waters by the men on the Indian fishing vessel. "The Italian ship was attacked yesterday in international waters about 30 nautical miles off the south west coast of India," it said.
"Italian navy personnel on board following international protocols after repeated warnings and after ascertaining from binoculars that the pirates were armed... (they) gradually fired some warning shots and the pirates withdrew," the embassy statement said.
Indian officials, however, pointed out that the two Indians killed in the incident were "genuine fishermen" and could not have been mistaken for pirates since neither were they armed to open fire, nor did their boat have any other "piracy triggers". Moreover, Enrica did not even report the firing incident to maritime authorities for almost three hours and was headed for UAE/Egypt when intercepted by Indian Coast Guard.
The Italian embassy said, "Later, the Italian shipmaster was contacted by Indian Coast Guard and requested to head towards the Kochi harbour to offer information on the pirate attack. We are in touch with the Indian authorities and we shall work together to clarify all aspects of the incident."