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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The tale of 2 killings at Sea – ‘ Enrica Lexie and Prabhu Daya ’

After a plane crash, the great writer Sujatha famously wrote ‘that persons of high class would remain high class even when they err’ – that was a comment comparing the compensations between air accidents and road accidents.  Insurers would cry hoarse pointing out the limitless and high compensation that gets awarded in Motor Accident claims tribunals.

In road accident parlance, there is something commonly called ‘hit and run’ accidents -  largely attributed to commercial vehicles colliding or hitting a person, killing or maiming the victim and failing to stop by moving away from the spot of crime trying to go unnoticed – a crime in most jurisdictions.   Whilst it is the Insurer’s liability for those vehicle involved, there is solatium fund for compensating the victims of ‘hit & run’ cases.

Two deaths at Kerala Sea have sparked much debate and public attention and one is attributed to a Singapore flagged cargo vessel with IMO no. 9231573 of 189 M length and 32M beam with call sign S6EJ3. It is M.V. Prabhu Daya, a 52,822 DWT 2001-built bulk carrier enroute from Panaji to Singapore.

Some Indian newspapers have also written about the offence of smoking in a public place – that too the Court premises.  The perpetrators – the two Italian marines Latorre Massimiliano and Salvatore Girone—who shot dead two Malayali fishermen Ajesh Binky and Celestine of the fishing trawler St Antony from the deck of the Italian ship Enrica Lexie.  The Marines, reportedly from the San Marco Regiment were reported to have lighted up inside the court compound evoking angry response. 

In an unrelated incident, two fishermen were reported  killed and three others were missing after their boat hit an unidentified ship at sea 12 nautical miles off Manakkodam Light House in Alleppey last week (1st Mar 12).  The deceased were identified as Jestin from Kovil Road and Xavier of Chavara.  Two  other fishermen were rescued with injuries and were hospitalised.  Immediately after the incident, the  Navy and Coast Guard deployed four ships and a Dornier aircraft for search and rescue operation.  The ill-fated fishing vessel Don-1 had sailed from Neendakara with seven persons on board and the incident appeared to have happened  in the little hours of the day. 

The vessel suspected to have been involved in that accident is reported to be MV Prabhu Daya, which is now at the outer anchorage of Chennai Port and inspected by the  Indian Coast Guard purportedly by a team from Kerala. The vessel is reported to have not responded to the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) out of the eight ships that were near the accident area.  Experts are to examine the hull of the vessel to check whether it was involved in any recent accident.  It  is reported that MMD would utliise deep divers for conducting underwater survey, take photographs of the vessel and see whether it has any markings suggesting a scrape with the fishing boat, Don I.  The Investigating Team would also rely on three pieces of electronic equipment such as voice data recorder, global positioning system and automatic identification system.

Some reports suggest of the reluctance of the Chennai Port Trust to allow berthing of the vessel as taking care of the vessel in a long drawn legal process could be trouble-some.   Earlier, a second officer of the vessel was reported missing but is now reported to have been rescued near Trincomalee, in eastern Sri Lanka, by local fishermen after he jumped into the sea and is  being brought to Chennai.

In the other accident involving shooting from board Enrica Lexie, there has been more of diplomatic pressure from Italy and the family of the deceased refused to meet the Italian delegates.  Yesterday (5th Mar 12) the two  Italian marines charged with murder were  remanded in judicial custody for 14 days by a court in Kollam and sent to the Central Prison at Thiruvananthapuram. The marines, Latore Massimiliano and Salvatore Girone, were produced before Chief Judicial Magistrate AK Gopakumar as their police custody ended this afternoon.  There was a plea that they should be given all privileges enjoyed by military officials as Italian Govt consider them to be so – the Court  asked prison authorities to arrange for Italian food for the marines during their stay in prison, but turned down their plea for other privileges.  The court, however, directed the prison authorities not to lodge them along with other prisoners and to provide them medical facilities. They have also been allowed  to interact with Italian visitors one hour every day between 10 am and 1 pm.

The political overtures were still heard in Kerala State assembly, where Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said the investigation was progressing well and no leniency would be shown towards the accused.  On the ground, various fishermen outfits took out marches in Neendakara and before the state secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram asking government to put in place an effective system to ensure safety of fishermen in the sea. Continuing its diplomatic offensive, Italy stated that it was very concerned over what it called an 'unacceptable' decision by Indian authorities to jail two Italian marines.  Thus the killing at sea continues to be a complex international issue that involves the Vatican, the Roman Catholic church in Kerala, the Italian and the Indian governments. 

Earlier, a single bench verdict had ruled Enrica Lexie may be released on a surety of a mere Rs.25 lakh. The ship’s captain, Umbreto Vitielo, claims neither he nor the crew knew about the shooting. He reportedly told the Kerala police that according to the agreement the shipping line has with the Italian armed forces, the captain’s permission was not necessary to open fire on suspected pirates.

Whatever happens for sure – there would be high discrepancy in the compensation that those killed by Italy get and those who at present were killed by ‘hit and run’ vessel get – human lives are immeasurable, we continue to say !!

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.

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