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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Enrica Lexie set to sail off Kochi !!!- but still could not

       For the past two months – the Afromax Enrica Lexie has captured many headlines and hogged limelight.  It was much debated as to whether it was cold blooded murder by trigger happy Italian Marines or was it just the apprehensive action of Marines providing security against piracy threats !  More were the news about Italian diplomacy trying to get better of the systems and the Q on the jurisdiction.  After protracted struggle, the perpetrators of the crime,   Italian Marines identified as Latore Massimiliano and Salvatore Girone were arrested and lodged in jail.  Some more drama unfolded with those accused protesting on the food and accommodation.  

On 29th Mar 12, different line unfolded as the  Kerala High Court  granted permission for departure of the  Italian vessel Enrica Lexie which had been  detained at Cochin Port.  Justice P S Gopinathan directed the release of the vessel ;  On a plea by the ship owner seeking permission to continue its voyage, the court said the order to release the vessel would not interfere with the course of the ongoing probe. The court directed the vessel owner Dolphin Tankers to execute a bond of Rs. 3 crore before the Deputy Conservator of the Cochin Port Trust with an undertaking to produce the vessel, master and the crew as and when required.  Opposing the move, Advocate General K P Dandapani submitted that in the event the forensic lab report points at any involvement of the remaining four marines on board Enrica Lexie in the incident, the court shall be permitted to take them into custody.

Whilst a ship cannot remain for an indeterminable period of time, some shipping sources apprehend that the sailing out of Kochi might affect the investigation and there is the possibility of evidences on board the ship getting lost and whether there was involvement of more Marines would never be out.   There is some criticism that this high profile case has had many loop holes with some reports suggesting that the log books which contain critical data have not been properly analysed.  Some anyalysts say that the sailing away would help both the captain and the ship owner to escape from Indian Law. The ship owners had on their part filed petition seeking release citing that huge expenditure was being incurred by them with the docking of vessel at Kochi and that they would fully cooperate with the investigation.  

So the ghosts of the two fishermen killed -  Ajesh Binki, 25, and Gelastine, 45,  would haunt while the Marines Latorre Massimillano and Salvatore Girone, presently languish in the Central Prison in the state capital Thiruvananthapuram.  Italian Defence Minister Giampaolo Di Paola visited the jail and met the marines.  The minister later called on Chief Minister Oommen Chandy along with a large Italian delegation.  Mr. Chandy was assisted at the meeting by top police officers among others and after a 15-minute interaction with the Italian delegation, he and Paola engaged in a one-to-one interaction.

What was discussed is not known, and was there need for any confidential discussion on something pending in a Court of law cannot be answered.  There are opinion that the sailing out order portrays the failure on the  State in defending the case.  There was delay in filing the seizure report and arraigning the captain of the vessel  which could be viewed as crucial. 

The Court has  directed the shipping company to give an undertaking that the vessel, its master and crew would appear as and when called upon by competent authorities with three weeks' prior notice. It is stated that the owners of the vessel  argued they could not take responsibility of the marines as they were not part of the ship's crew and they were deputed by the Italian navy for security.

Only time will reveal whether this case was handled properly despite the initial tall claims made by the State Government and it would be unfortunate that by the time, the facts are known, most would have forgotten of this case – a la the killing of Indian fishermen closer to their own coast………..
A happy ending for the Ship, its Owners and those on Board – or so I thought, upon concluding this but today there is more news. 

Now there are reports of a major   setback for sailing out of Indian waters, as  a Division Bench of the Kerala High Court on Friday(30th March 2012)  stayed the Single Judge’s order granting permission to the vessel to leave the Cochin Port till Monday.    The Division Bench of Acting Chief Justice Manjula Chellur and Justice V Chitambaresh directed vessel owner Dolphin Tankers to wait for three more days.

Reports state that the Court issued the directive while considering an appeal filed by relatives of the fishermen, who were shot dead by Italian marines on board the vessel, challenging the Single Judge’s order.  The earlier directive permitted sailing after furnishing a bond for Rs.3 crore before the Deputy Conservator of the Cochin Port Trust with an undertaking to produce the vessel, master and the crew as and when required by the Centre, Deputy Conservator, and Mercantile Marine Department.  The present directive of Division Bench expresses its disagreement stating that the amount is meagre and reportedly queried on why Ship owners cannot furnish sum of Rs. 10 crore.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar


  1. Mr.Sampath, I have many doubts about this whole affair. All the news I could get about this episode is from Indian source and I have a feeling that they are biased towards India. The comments in papers are all anti Italian. My doubts are:-
    1. How is that everyone says that the shooting occurred in Indian territorial waters? what is the basis of this assertion? The ship Enrico Lexie would have been continuously transmitting its position and many other details on FM. I forgot the name of the unit but all ships are bound to have it. The data can be received by neighbouring ships and shore which have the receiver.(This is not the VDR which is the equivalent of Black Box of planes) Has this data been received by anyone and is it available so that the position of the ship at the time of occurrence of the shooting can be ascertained. Or are Indian authorities depending on the words of the fishermen for ascertaining the position. Can anyone imagine the illiterate fishermen will be carrying a GPS and would have noted the position of the boat at the time of shooting?
    2. The question of shooting. Why people think that the marines are trigger happy and will shoot two innocent fishermen just for fun or target practice? Is it a normal behaviour of a human being? Is it not more probable there should have been some provocation from the side of the fishermen? You must have read of may accidents happening at unmanned railway crossing. It always happens due to utter negligence of the drivers of vehicles who tries to cross the track. Mostly they assume foolishly that they speed well enough to cross before the train reaches the spot and get crushed. Why not something like that could not have happened? The marines have told the boat was approaching ship fast. It could have been that the boat could have been foolishly thinking to cross the path of the ship before it reached the spot. This could have made the marines suspect the boat was a pirate boat coming to attack even though in fact it was trying to avoid it? Why everyone takes the fishermen's version as gospel truth and the white man is lying always?
    3. How the judge has expressed his view orally that the whole episode was a terrorist act? The guilt of the accused is yet to be established. Before that how he can say that. That itself is a biased view. And on what account is this shooting a terrorist act?
    4. Why this ship and its crew including its captain is held at Kochi harbour indefinitely? Police have been searching the ship some 45 days ago and the ship is under their control that they can search it at any time. They must have questioned the captain and crew and their statements taken. The guns found and taken from the ship were sent for forensic tests 45 days or so ago. Why the tests are not completed and why they insists that the ship cannot be released before the tests are over? If the tests are delayed why the ship owner should suffer losses for keeping the ship idle and also pay berth charges to Cochin Port Trust? And for the purpose of trial what is the necessity of the ship at all? Is not photographs of the places in the ship from where the alleged shots were fired enough. If a murder happened in a building is it not usual to present the photographs as evidence? Nobody brings the building neither the court goes to the building. This is simple harassment of the owners of the ship. As regards the compensation to be given to the killed fishermen the ship's owners were ready to give a bond for 3 crore rupees as asked by the court. Why the change of that decision? What I feel is that the Kerala Government has not any evidence to establish the crime and it is groping in dark and is delaying the whole thing. In the end it will have to withdraw the case for lack of evidence and give a huge compensation to the ship's owners.
    Curiously the MV Prabhu Daya was allowed to sail after furnishing a bond for one crore even though four persons were killed when it collided with a boat.

  2. Mr.Sampath, In today's Times of India I read a news of Indian fishermen who were fishing in Pakistan territorial waters were caught by Pakistan authorities. These types of news about fishermen crossing the boundaries of territorial waters is very common. I would say that it is because the illiterate fishermen do not have any idea where the boundaries are. They don't have any means of knowing it. It is only the gut feeling. Why I am telling is that if the fishermen of the boat St.Antony says that the incident happened in Indian territorial waters it has absolutely no meaning. So the shooting could have happened outside the Indian territorial limit of 12 nautical miles. Beyond this 12 nautical miles the rules are bit grey. They are not absolutely black and white. If it is an act of terrorism then it is clear cut. Any government against whom the terrorist act has been performed it can pursue the perpetrator anywhere. That is why the defense council asked the judge whether the shooting was an act of terrorism. The judge then acted more like a politician rather than a judge. He told that the act in the eyes of the victims family is an act of terrorism.
    Guptan Veemboor

  3. I now understand why our Government appears so confused all the time and why they appear to commit the blunders that they do. All you do called "patriots" and "guardians of national pride" first sail on a ship and then comment. All us sailors feel betrayed by the indifference displayed towards us by our own country and Government. Sail through pirate infested waters first and then you may understand. We brave far worst elements and stay away from our kin and family to earn a living, and to add to it now we can be put in a prison anywhere in the world for any action just for political leverage. First be us then you may talk about us. If someone were to lay his eyes on your property, you would do all it takes to try to protect it. We are alone out there, we do the same. There is no 911 or 100 that we can call. Help arrives always too late. Think about that before you point fingers and blame people.

  4. Mr.Sharma, if you go through Times of India comments on this issue and that of Prabhu Daya you can see that I was always with the ship and its crew. ( One skunk had written in my name some nonsense to which I have replied also.) I have strongly argued that the Italian marines should not be blamed before hearing their version. I am of the opinion that the marines would not have shot unless there was reasonable provocation to make them suspect the fishermen to be pirates. So far the Government of Kerala is only depending on the version given by the surviving illiterate fishermen. Recently there was some conference regarding the pirates activities near our shore. Government of India has indirectly admitted of such piracy near our shore. Then what is wrong if the Italian marines suspected the fishermen if they hav behaved suspiciously? Same with Prabhu Daya. Why the boat should anchor on a ships path and have no look-out to watch an approaching ship? Is it not equally the responsibility of the boat crew to keep a watch? Of course the ship should have stopped immediately when it became aware of the mishap to rescue the survivors.