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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Killing of fishermen by Enrica Lexie – deadlock in talks at Kochi.

The news and controversies surrounding MV Enrica Lexie are getting murkier day by day !

The Italian flagged ship was travelling from Singapore to Egypt with a crew of 34 including 19 Indians. It had on board  six Italian marines from the San Marco Regiment.  Fishing is common and fishing trawlers are sighted throughout Indian coasts, Arabic sea off Kerala is no exception.  An illfated fishing trawler named St. Antony had left Neendakara in Kerala with a crew of 11 to fish for tuna.  In what is reported to be an mistaken apprehension, the ship showered bullets on the fishing boat killing two fishermen Ajesh Pinki from Kulachal in Kanyakumari district in Tamil Nadu and Jalestine from Kollam in Kerala on February 15, 2012. 

One version puts it as a ‘cold-blooded’ murder by trigger happy Italians; the other version puts it that they apprehended it to a skimp – a boat employed by pirates, though no such activity takes place closer to Kerala coast.  When a killing happens, it is natural that the perpetrators must be brought to book and just compensation given to those killed.  While a killing would remain a killing, where it happened perhaps might give another twist of jurisdiction.  This is a Ship and the incident involved in ‘Seas’ – so whether the place of incident was within Indian waters or International waters needs clarity and for that mere arguments or versions would never suffice.

Viewed merely as a killing, it would be culpable punishment under Indian Penal code. There is the Admiralty Law which decides various shipping related issues such as possession or ownership, damage done by ship, death or personal injury occurring as a result of fault of ship or defective machinery, lost or damaged goods carried by ship, towage and the like.  To a layman, the jurisdiction would exclusively be dependent on the locality of the act.  Only maritime torts would have to be decided solely by Admiralty Courts.    Admiralty law is a distinct body of law which governs maritime questions and offenses.

Commoners like us may never understand the intricacies of Laws and that way Admiralty Law would only be too complicated for our understanding.  But instead of putting facts to light and relying on them, the event is getting murkier.  More than the vessel being Italy flagged, the perpetrators being Italian Marines, perhaps has added newer dimension.   Italy is going into diplomatic overdrive, getting even the Vatican to bat for it, in its efforts to secure the release of two Italian Navy guards,  accused of the killing.   There are reports suggesting of a full-scale diplomatic offensive by Rome  to get the Indian government to secure the release of the two Navy guards without going through the due process of law in the killings.  Italy’s Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi  was quoted as sayint that  “The Italian government is working at every level with the Indian government,”.  Then there was also the news quoting  Vatican-based Catholic news agency Fides,  that the newly consecrated Cardinal of the Catholic Church, Mar George Alencherry from Kerala, has called for a “peaceful solution” to the issue. He has appealed to the Kerala government not to resort to "precipitate action" and warned the opposition against trying to exploit the situation. He said “I am and will remain in close contact with the Catholic Ministers of Kerala and I hope that they will help to pacify the situation.

What is this jurisdiction – how and in what capacity the Cardinal is going to resolve this ?   Later, there are reports of Cardinal clarifying that he has not tried to intervene.  Which news is half-truth and which is to be believed ?  The cardinal was quoted as stating that he learnt the story of catholic fishermen killed, sad and the episode was one of errors.  All along it was the story of Indian fishermen (irrespective of their religion) killed and was he having any extra information for concluding it as an error !!  The damage was contained when the  Latin Catholic Church in Kollam reacted sharply to the alleged statement of Alencherry, calling  it unfortunate and said it was against the interests and sentiments of the fisherfolk. The families of the victims also vehemently slammed the alleged statement.

On the other hand, there continues  considerable confusion about the interpretation of the event. Why should this become a  diplomatic row also defies commoner’s understanding.  The Italian Govt tries to justify their action but how can there any diplomatic immunity to such brutal act ?  From an Indian point of view, however, it seems mighty unusual that the Italians opened fire without warning: normal maritime practice suggests that even pirates or other undesirables be given notice before the application of deadly force.  It is a matter of fact that there have been no incidents of piracy this close to the Indian coast.  As of now, the merchant ship  Enrica Lexie remains anchored at Kochi.

This incident could be viewed as an accidental killing and would in no way compare with the acts of  Italian arms merchant Ottavio Quattrocchi who  was allowed to escape with his ill-gotten gains or the illegal arms drop in Purulia by British perpetrators  and certainly not comparable to the killing fo 24 pakistani soldiers by Americans.

Kerala’s Chief Minister Oommen Chandy maintains that it was a cold-blooded murder and the recent meeting failed to break the impasse.  CM  Chandy was accompanied by Excise Minister K Babu, Director General of Police Jacob Punnoose, District Collector Mini Antony, Police Superintendent C Rajagopal and Kochi Police Commissioner M R Ajith Kumar.  The Italian Minister was flanked by  Italian Ambassador Giacomo Sanfelice and Italian Consul General in Mumbai Giampaolo Cutillo.  Earlier, de Mistura had met Minister of State for External Affairs Preneet Kaur at New Delhi.

It is reported that during the discussions, both India and Italy remained firm on their stances over the two Italian marines in the custody of Kerala Police.  Rome has been seeking immunity for its navy personnel arguing that the incident occurred in international waters. But Delhi has been refusing to relent.  It is further stated that the  Italian minister wanted to meet the victims' families, but Chandy told him that the situation was 'not right' for that.  The police custody of the two accused will end today [23rd Feb 2012] They will be in judicial custody for the next two weeks. Meanwhile, the Kollam Magistrate has directed the Kochi Port Trust to bring the Italian ship Enrica Lexie back to the harbour. The police wants to search the vessel.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.

1 comment:

  1. 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?