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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Enrica Lexie - facts and not diplomacy should provide immunity

Maritime Piracy has proved to be a great risk for all those at sea ! …  Enrica Lexie, is a Aframax tanker built in 2008 at Shanghai Waigaogiao, has double hull, is Italy flagged, ABS classed – has LOA of 243 M, 14.82 draught bearing IMO no. 9489297.  After the hype of protest and diplomatic wrangling, two Italian guards, identified as Latore Massimiliano and Salvatore Girone from Italy’s San Marco Regiment, were  reportedly arrested in Kochi  four days   after the killing.  There are reports that though the Police claimed  to have  brought the captain of the immobilised Italian ship to the ground,  the  captain Umberto Vitiello is yet to get out of the ship.  Some reports state that it is mistaken identity of Italian attaché for captain. 

Sure the ships transitting the Arabian sea are at high risk in the piracy infested waters but Horn of Africa and Gulf of Aden can never be classified in the same league alongside Kerala border.  Even a misconceived notion of piracy appears to be an elongated version of apprehension.  But immediately after the incident, Italy sprang to the defence of perpetrators of killing and  rushed its junior foreign minister to India  in the face of New Delhi's hardened stand while invoking its own extra-territorial jurisdiction to justify the arrest of the Italian marine security guards accused of killing two Indian fishermen. Asserting that the location of the ship did not matter, official sources said IPC Section 4 ensured that the trial for any crime committed against an Indian national on an Indian vessel can take place on its soil.

Trying to add a new dimension to the killing of fishermen nearer the Indian coast, Italian foreign minister Giulio Terzi stated  that the arrest of the two mariners would hamper international fight against piracy. While India or any Nation for that matter will only be too willing to extend all possible International cooperation in the fight against piracy, this unjustified killing in perceived notion of anti-piracy needs to resolved graciously by exhibiting the facts through various logs rather than trying to arrive at any solution forced by diplomatic pressure.  Italy had earlier cited its own extra-territorial jurisdiction to claim exemption from trial for the two naval officers who have been arrested.   Italy has  sent its junior foreign minister Staffan De Mistura to Delhi to handle the situation. Until recently De Mistura was the UN's special representative for Afghanistan.  It is reported in one section of the Press that Italian diplomats are seeking the release of the two mariners on the basis of assurances that they will come back to India whenever asked for.

Italy continues to build pressure maintaining that the trial would only take place in Italy as the incident reportedly occurred in International waters – it is not the legal nature but the real occurrence which should determine the jurisdiction.   Indian officials so far have ruled  out the possibility of any joint probe into the incident.

Unlike some Countries, where ship owners have had to resort to private security forces, Italy had been  assigning military teams to protect its merchant vessels in the Indian Ocean last year after a series of attacks by Somali pirates on Italian ships.   It is true that  Pirates operating in small fishing vessels and fast motorboats have hijacked dozens of vessels in the region over recent years, extracting millions of dollars in ransom. But no such incident had occurred closer to Indian shore and whether the servicemen fired warning shots into the water as a fishing vessel approached will have to be proved with log support.    To add to confusion, Italian newspapers have speculated that the vessel which approached the Enrica Lexie may not have been the same one as the boat on which the two fishermen were killed.

Italy and the killers should not have any unfair diplomatic advantage – the Italian marines in custody are reported to have admitted having fired more than 20 rounds of bullets at the fishing trawler.  The police, who are yet to seize the weapons used by Latorre Massimilano and Salvatore Girone to kill the two fishermen, but  suspect that rifle they used could be Berretta AR-70/90.  Meantime, Doramma, wife of Valentine alias Jalastine who was recently gunned down by Italian marines on board vessel Enrica Lexie,  has approached the Kerala High Court seeking Rs 1-crore compensation for the damage caused to the family.  The  ship owners filed a caveat apprehending that the deceased fishermen’s kin might file an admiralty suit and obtain an arrest order of the vessel.

The vessel could be in for more trouble as the tanker has to pay over Rs 40 lakh to the Cochin Port Trust as berth rent and other port related charges.  The vessel, which was  berthed at the Cochin Oil Terminal (COT) in the wee hours of Friday for investigation purposes, was shifted off-shore on Monday morning to make the tanker berth available to other ships.  It is reported to be  a global maritime practice and the payment of charges cannot be disputed.  The berthing is a headache for the CPT and the BPCL Kochi Refinery in finding a suitable berthing for scheduled arrivals. It was the oil company which literally bore the brunt of the dilemma.  The ship was allotted berth by evacuating another tanker, Jag Prachi, which was  about to start pumping furnace oil to the BPCL-KRL when it was asked to go back to the outer channel and await further orders.  Some more vessels are waiting outside and BPCL is incurring losses by way of demurrage for no fault of theirs. 

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.


  1. Another matter to be noted is that the captain of the ship, who is in overall command,and without whose order the guards would not have resorted to shooting, is not arraigned. In every instance where a merchat vessel is involved in a crime, first the captain is taken into custody to prevent him from ordering elimination of any evidences.In Enrica Lexie case the captain is doing exactly the same and more.

  2. For the first time I am with kerala CM. If something is happening on our coastline, should state owned force remain tranquil till centre force arrival. Justice can be executed by centre or state force. Now will centre act wisely to punish Italian culprits?

  3. Yes Anand, I do agree with your views - P Varma