Italian shooting in the Arabian Sea

The incident which has sparked a major diplomatic row between Italy and India, with Indian police immediately opening a murder enquiry and later arresting two members of the navy security team over the shooting incident, in the Arabian sea off coast of southern India by an Italian navy security team on board oil tanker MV Enrica Lexie travelling from Singapore to Egypt resulted in the death of two Indian fishermen on 15 February 2012.

After completing formalities in Kochi, the marines were taken to nearby Kollam town by the local investigating team and produced in a court. On February 20 the court ordered to keep them in police custody for now and sent to prison after three days till a bail is granted.

Ajesh Binki and Gelastine from Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala respectively aboard a fishing traweler were killed by the gun shots from the navy security guards (marines) of the Reggimento San Marco, Marina Militare.

According to the Indian Coast Guard, Indian government sources and the crew of the fishing boat Saint Antony, the incident happened at approximately 16:30 when the fishing boat was returning from a fishing expedition. Umberto Vitelli, the captain of the Enrica Lexie, and the Italian crew state that the firing was in self defense as they anticipated the fishermen to be pirates about to be boarded.

Excerpts from a meeting between the visiting Italian Deputy Foreign Minister and Indian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs

In a meeting with the Italian’s visiting Deputy Foreign Minister, the Indian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Preneet Kaur resisted the Italy’s midway formula for the killing of Indian nationals case, India insisted that the matter now rests with the Kerala High Court.

As the alleged shooting took place in international waters, the Italian extra-territorial law ought to prevail. India has already said its laws also have a similar provision in case an Indian is killed or an Indian vessel attacked.

Ms. Kaur heard also considered his argument that the claim that alternatively the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) should be applicable, which again provides for prosecution in the state (in this case Italy), whose flag the ship is flying. With the Ministry of External Affairs’ legal cell having already conveyed rejoinders to both positions, Ms. Kaur told him that as Indians, “we will go by our law.”

Inferences of Indian Coast Guard

According to the Indian Coast Guard, the Italian ship did not even inform of the incident, instead it continued sailing towards Egypt. However, only after an intervention by the ICG asking the Italian ship to proceed to Kochi port, the ship anchored to the Kochi Port.

If they thought they were being chased by a pirate vessel, they should have carried out evasive manoeuvres to alter the course of the ship, as enunciated by the guidelines. If it was still after them, they would’ve fired a few warning shots well above the bow of the pirate vessel to deter it.

But, they do not seem to have done any of this. The Italians are claiming that this was a successful anti-piracy operation, but it is crystal clear that the fishermen were unarmed and were not attempting to come alongside the tanker to board it. As the tanker crew claims to have been fired upon, ICG sent fast attack craft INS Kabra to ascertain if there were bullet marks on it. It went around the ship to find that there was none. I’ve also asked my men to verify the tanker’s logbook to account for the number of rounds fired by the guards. This is to see if they had fired any warning shot at all. Moreover, the fishing vessel which can only attain the maximum speed of about eight knots, cannot give a chase to the giant Italian ship.

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