Alleged killing of two Indian fishermen in anti-piracy operation sparks diplomatic crisis between India and Italy

Feb 19 2012 - 18 Comments

Two Italian Navy riflemen belonging to the San Marco Battalion, are currently under custody in India pending the investigation about the alleged killing of two Indian fishermen 30 miles off the southern Indian coast on Feb. 15.

The two military were on board the merchant ship Enrica Lexie as Military Security Team on Italian ships in areas under threat of pirates. Although the episode is still under investigation, the Italian Navy explained in an official statement that at about 12.30PM  Italian Time, the merchant ship was approached by a suspect vessel with armed sailors that did not respond to warning signs.

In compliance with the stardand procedures, the security team on board the Enrica Lexie fired three sets of warning shots for deterrence whose effect was to discourage the pirates. The alleged pirate boat departed from the Italian merchant ship without signs “of obvious onboard damages.”

However, two fishermen died and Indian authorities denied that any of the crew members of the “suspect” vessel was armed.

The Italian merchant ship was ordered to dock at the port of Kochi waiting for it to carry out the investigation.
Even though it’s still difficult to piece fact together, the episode happened in international waters, on an Italian ship, hence the jurisdiction must be Italian. Furthermore, the two military should be subject to absolute judicial immunity.

Then, there are a lot of inconsistencies between the Italian and Indian versions, to such an extent the fact that the two fisherman were killed in another shooting, involving another ship, can’t be ruled out.
For instance, Italians stated a total of 20 rounds in bursts of warning were shot, none of which hit the vessel, whereas the Indians affirmed that the fishing boat was hit by 60 shots . If so, however, as some sources have pointed out, the boat would suffer serious damage and could hardly reach the port.

Moreover, the Indian authorities have refused to show the bodies of the two killed fishermen nor to perform the autopsy.
Although, not as dangerous as the Gulf of Aden and the Somali Basin, where ships, helicopters, maritime patrol aircraft and drones contribute to the anti-piracy operations, the seas surrounding southern India have been the scene of an increasing number of pirate attacks.

Image credit: The Hindu Business Line

  • SS

    Friend, the boat on which the Indian fishermen died was an Indian boat, so Indian jurisdiction applies.

    The Italian ship did not report the incident and tried to flee.

    If you talk of judicial immunity for the Italian marines, you must admit first that Indian jurisdiction applies. Next, any sensible person would ridicule the idea that armed members of a foreign military would enjoy immunity.

    The bodies of the dead fishermen have been shown on Indian TV channels several thousand times.

    Suffice to say, at this point, most Indians have been stunned by the arrogance of your ridiculous country. Sadly, your arrogance has only made the outlook worse for your two soldiers. It seems like Italy does not want to respect Indian laws and is completely insensitive to the fact that 2 innocent people have been shot dead.

    Along with bankruptcy and laziness, Italians have also recently been in the news for cowardice and lies in the Costa Concordia disaster. With this incident, you have shown that Italians will always find a way to sink lower than you think they can.

    • International law is not based on subjectivity, nor even on anger and clamor caused by an incident, but on a set of rules that apply regardless of race or nationality of those concerned.

      • elisabeth velaidam

        People have to understand this, it’s not like if the government is making it up, It’s true, all people care about is race and nationality. thanks a lot for posting it …….

  • mario

    Well, there are some odd things. First the ship is more than 3000 Kms from Somalia, somali pirates range is around 1000 kilometers. If you look at piracy incidences …the region in question does not figure as a hotspot or warning area

    About legal jurisdiction I think it isnt as simple as ‘it happened in international waters, it was an italian ship, and hence jurisdiction is italian’ . The other ship is a registered indian vessel, so it could be said jurisdiction is indian by the same measure.

  • S. Anoop Kumar

    David Cenciotti does not have time to read the material that may not be comfortable to his point ot view. He has clearly closed his mind and does want to confine himself to what he thinks as right and also rub it on others.

    • Uncorrect and simplistic. If I didn’t accept material that is not comfortable to my point of view I would simply moderate comments like yours or the one giving all the links.
      On the contrary, I’ve explained in my post, what’s in my knowledge but, since I’m not a lawyer nor an expert of international law, and since maritime right is something a bit off topic for a military aviation-focused blog, I suggest my readers to make their opinion by their own.
      That said, have you read that material? Are you sure it does contradict what I’ve stated?
      Sometimes readers should study the subject and discuss it instead of criticizing on principle. The fact that you are from India, should not affect your objectiveness.

  • Sorry David, But I dont agree

    And your article has only served to convince me that we are in the right. Every Indian newspaper has carried both the Italian and Indian versions; whereas you have given a one-sided story. Fact of the matter is that 2 Indian Citizens – bodies shown on TV – have been killed by Italians. Fact 2: Fishing boats are pretty common off Indian Borders – but not pirates. Fact 3: one incident does not make Kochi region pirate-infested. Fact 4: Our Foreign Minister has made our stance plenty clear – and it is also the general demand across India. Fact 5: As per our version, the incident occurred in Indian waters. Fact 6: Your nation does not possess a licence to kill as per their own wishes. Your arrogance is stunning, to say the least – especially when no less a personality than the Foreign Minister has made our position clear. But in a way, I am thankful to you – you have just convinced me that we are in the right. Thanks!

    • Fact 1) Even if the most probably were killed by the Italian marines, the fact that the bodies were shown on TV doesn’t prove anything more than two men were (unfortunately) killed.
      2) Feb. 15 is listed as a piracy act in Indian waters. Is this coincidence? Maybe. For sure you can’t rule out piracy occurred there.
      3) Concur
      4) That is your FM opinion and your country demand. International law should be something independent from personal opinions or “general demand”. P
      5) As far as I know, the GPS location of the ship was well outside the territorial waters that, by international laws, are 12 NM from the coast.
      6) I concur, but can’t understand where arrogance is. The problem is with international laws and treaties, not with Italy requesting them to be applied.

      I’ll try to make it clear. If they are guilty, they have to be judged and arrested. But at the end of a trial and in accordance with the international laws. That every country has to comply with even if there’s a different “general demand across” it.

      In 1998, a USMC EA-6B Prowler, flying too low hit a cableway in Italy and caused the death of 20 people. As you can understand, the disaster caused anti-American protests in Italy. However, they were not arrested in Italy, since the international treaties gave the U.S. the chance to judge the crew at home.
      As explained by the Wikipedia page:
      “Italian prosecutors wanted the four Marines to stand trial in Italy, but an Italian court recognized that North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) treaties gave jurisdiction to U.S. military courts.”
      Please, consider that in the 1998 there were no doubts about who had hit the tramway causing the crash.

      • Frank and Honest Answer…. and I concur on quite a few points. Best of all, both you and I want the same thing: Justice if the Italians are guilty. Good Enough for me – and it should be good enough for everyone concerned. Perhaps Richards has the best answer of all: lets wait and not jump to conclusions either way!

  • Richard Clements

    Trying to be as neutral as I can here, this was an accident waiting to happen, the blame here isn’t anyones other than the pirates that have made it neccesary to arm cargo ships. During an incident of this nature it is understandable that feelings are running high on both sides, at the moment details are scarce at best and we all know what the media can do to manipulate a story.
    I don’t think the piracy issue is a solely Somalian issue it is a problem that has been around for hundreds of years and pirates come from any country. Indeed my own country participated in piracy hundreds of years ago, the city in which I work was formed on piracy and slavery.

    My point is I guess lets wait until further details come out before jumping to conclusions either way.

  • Luca

    It’s also interesting how we got into this situation.

    The fishermen, back to the mainland and reporting to the police about the assault, they could not provide any information useful to clearly identify the ship. They could not read the vessel’s name or even an detailed description.

    The Indian authorities were without any clue at this point. So they smartly started to interrogate via radio all the ships they found in a x range of miles from where the fishermen reported the killings have happened. “We have found a boat full of weapons, have you been attacked by someone?”.

    The only ship to answer positively to the Indian authorities were the Italian ship (which also employed several Indian workers) answering honestly “yes, we have been attacked and we replied with warning signals”. “Ok”, said the Indian police, ” please come to the port to report about the incident”.

    I am unaware of the reasons why the Italian ship’s captain decided to trust the Indian police and went to the port.They could have continued staying in international waters and all this mess would have never happened. Probably it’s because they understood was part of the international cooperation deals for the fight against pirates.

    It seems that not all ships around were questioned. A Greek one for example, which reported being attacked by pirates and navigating nearby, has never been contacted.

    • S. Anoop Kumar

      Mr. Luca,

      Great hypothesis. But it sans any reasonable and acceptable logic. The facts are entirely different. You have a great talent in writing scripts for American English fiction films. You have projected Italian ship captain as a lolly pop sucking stupid & idiot. As per you, an Italian ship gets attacked by a bunch of sea pirates very close to the Indian shores, and there is exchange of fire, but the captain does not inform the local authorities or press the alarm. He will only inform when the Indian authorities when he is stopped and confronted.

      The captain of the ship himslef is under scanner now and is likely to be charged for various irregularities including destroying of crucial evidence, and for various other offences and in not following the sailor’s rules. If the charges stick, his master’s license may be suspended or even cancelled by your own country. Have a good day.


  • Luca

    Hi there. These are information available on news channels, and they do not state who’s guilty and who’s not.
    I can’t know, in the same way you can’t, who really attacked the italian ship and to whom the ship fired back simply because we were not there. They can be sea pirates, fishermen, imagination: we do not know.

    The ship was not exactly “stopped” as you say, but the ship voluntary went to the harbor to report the fact after being contacted by the indian authorities for helping investigations. To me it looks a strange behavior if the Erica Leixe’s guys had really something to hide.

    I am not a laywer, but the concept of “local authority” does not fit clearly on international waters. Erica Leixe immediately reported the incident, but to Rome, since they recognize Italy as the “local authorithy”.

  • S. Anoop Kumar

    Hi Luca,

    We Indians are as much interested in knowing the truth as much as you Italians are. If Italian marines are not guilty of any wrong doing, we don’t want them to be punished. Have faith in the Indian judiciary. We have one of them best legal system and our police are equally good in forensic science.

    Believe me, your govt. officials and your foreign minister were here and they have looked into the incident from various angles. They have consulted the best legal brains, both within your country and also in our country. They are not disputing the firing incident. Thjey claim that they have fired at another boat which tried to attack the huge ship. And that too within 32.5 nm from Indian shores which is not pirate infested area. (Somalia is 3000 kms from the place where the incident is reported to have occurred and their operational area is within 1000 kms. from Somalian shores). All they are now disputing is the jurisdiction. And who should try the mariners. The Indians or the Italians. And we both have our arguments to support our line of thinking. And it is known fact that Indian waters are free from pirate attacks for it is well guarded & protected by Indian Coast Guard and Indian Navy. Even more after the Mumbai attack by terrorists.

    As much as you have your laws, we Indians have our laws. As much as you expect the foreigners to respect the Italian laws, we expect every foreigner to respect the Indian laws. And more particularly when Indians are involved and are victims. Your mariners are not diplomats as far as we Indians are concerned to enjoy any diplomatic immunity.

    The victims are Indian fishermen, sailing Indian vessel under Indian flag. They were killed while in the Indian vessel. And Indian vessel forms part of Indian jurisdiction. Anywhere in the world.

    Now coming to the jurisdiction, the courts are already seized of the matter and your officials have already filed a plea to that effect. The matter should be resolved any time soon. There was a hearing today and I am still to catch up.

    Have a great day.

    Best regards,

    S. Anoop Kumar.

  • Ashwin Dandekar

    I am not at all surprised by the line some of my Indian brethren have taken here because objectivity is something we Indians sorely lack. These vessel have armed escorts not for playing chess on board but for protecting and any suspicious movement may raise their heckles. Are we believing here that these two mariners are trigger happy and killed two Indians just to derive some fun. A few years back children were used by Palestinians as front to throw stones at police and when police fired at the stone throwers, they were vilified for targeting children. Same thing happened in Afghanistan also where children were being used as suicide bombers. How do security people react? They will regard every suspicious movement as dangerous and react accordingly. Why was the need for Indian fishermen boat to approach the Italian ship? And I am telling you all this hullaballu is all about getting maximum monetary compensation. they are demanding Rs. One crore. These fishermen could have toiled all their lives but could have never earned that much but in their death martyrs are created and prices are extracted. It happens so many times in the subcontinent – remember the undercover CIA agent in Pakistan when cornered by thugs (the attackers were thugs but overnight became martyrs because an American had killed them even though while defending himself)) opened fire and killed them. Later on it all boiled down to maximum extraction of monetary compensation. Once we start asking honest questions to ourselves, we will not question others’ (read Italian) intentions. Ask yourselves why Indian boat persisted in approaching the Italian vessel within firing range? It is all about playing to gallery. We are in a democracy and whatever the majority says has to be right. What kind of mindset is this?
    Today we had another incident in which an ex Army officer was sentenced to life imprisonment for firing on and killing a 15 year old thief last year who had intruded in to a restricted army area (God forbid he could have been any of those suicide bombers employeed by terrorists). We clamoured for Army officer’s blood but did we ever pause to ponder over that we are also encouraging thievery. By these standards, it is OK to steal and if you get killed in the process you become a martyr. What sick mentality is this? It remains sick because we hardly have a balanced view.