Armed guards, reported to be Italian naval personnel, on the tanker, Enrica Lexie, fired on and killed two Tamil Nadu fishermen off Kochi on Wednesday, believing the fishermen to be pirates. Indian authorities said the Italian guards fired without warning in violation of international anti-piracy guidelines – a claim denied by Italy. Charges of murder have been filed.
“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.
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.