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Friday, April 20, 2012

Out of Court settlement in Enrica Lexie killing and situation thereafter

On the ill-fated day of 15th Feb 2012,  two fishermen, Gelastine (45) and Ajesh Binki (25), were brought to Neendakara harbour late on the night of 15 February and were taken to the Medical College Hospital, Thiruvananthapuram, for post mortem. Subsequently, Gelastine's body was taken to Kollam and buried on the morning of 17 February, while the body of the Ajesh Binki, was taken to Erayammanthurai in Tamil Nadu's Nagercoil district and buried. The Kerala government announced a solatium of Rs. 5 lakh (Rs. 5,00,000) to the families of each of the victims, while the Tamil Nadu government announced a solatium of Rs. 5 lakh to the family of Ajesh Binki.  Generally such deaths of fisherfolk would have appeared in an obscure column of newspaper and forgotten.

This was not to be – as they had been shot dead  by Italian naval guards from aboard oil tanker Enrica Lexie, and has been in the news all through these months.  Now there are reports that Italian authorities have come forward to settle the compensation claims. Initial reports indicate a compensation of Rs one crore for each victim's family.   The two  were allegedly shot dead by Italian marines of the Reggimento San Marco, Marina Militare.  The incident sparked a major diplomatic row between Italy and India, with Indian police immediately opening a murder enquiry and later arresting two members of the Italian Navy security team over the shooting.  According to the Indian Coast Guard, Indian government sources and the crew of the fishing boat Saint Antony, the incident happened at approximately 16:30 IST when the fishing boat was returning from a fishing expedition. After the fishing boat reported the incident to the coastal police at Neendakara in Kollam district, the information was conveyed to the Indian Coast Guard which launched search operations by deploying two Offshore Patrol Vessels ICGS Samar and ICGS Lakshmi Bai in addition to a Dornier Do-228 maritime surveillance aircraft to intercept the Enrica Lexie.  The Kerala Police charged two Italian marines aboard the Enrica Lexie, who were identified as Latorre Massimiliano and Salvatore Girone, with murder under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code and on 19 February took them into custody for interrogation.

What was to be an issue of Admiralty Laws and Marine Statues, took many other turns and there were reports of religious heads and priests from Italy  arriving at Kollam to participate in the negotiations.  Father Mark and Joseph reached Kollam and visited the families of the deceased fishermen. Priests of Kollam held talks with the priests from Italy. The victim Valentine Jalastine’s wife told the media that the priests stated that they hoped to settle the matter peacefully and amicably. For the past few days, a team consisting of the Italian defence minister and officials of that country's foreign affairs department had been in talks with counsels representing the dependents of the two fishermen, Valentine Jelestine and Ajeesh Pink, who died in the incident. Italy, incidentally, still claims that its marines were trying to thwart an attempted piracy attack off Kollam coast on February 15.

Newspaper reports suggest that the first offer from the Italians was a compensation of Rs 70 lakh each. However, the dependents expressed their unwillingness to settle the claim, following which the offer was raised to Rs one crore each.  If the settlement goes through, the families would withdraw their civil complaint for compensation against the marines and withdraw requests for criminal action to be initiated against the ship’s captain,  according to the lawyers.   Italy’s Defence Minister is quoted as confirming that Italy had agreed to give the families money, but declined to say how much and insisted on calling it “a donation, an act of generosity,” which entailed no legal quid pro quo.

At a different level, a special leave petition is before the Apex Court of India against Kerala High Court order detaining Italian ship M.T. Enrica Lexie.  A single judge of the High Court had directed the police to permit the ship to continue its voyage on furnishing a bond for Rs.3 crore and an undertaking before the Deputy Conservator, Cochin Port Trust, that the vessel, master, and the crew would be produced as and when required by the authorities concerned. However, a Division Bench acting on appeals filed by a legal heir stayed that order.  The SLP said the High Court had committed an error in entertaining an appeal from the legal heir of the deceased who was not a party to the proceedings.

The SLP filed by M.T. Enrica Lexie against Doramma & others as respondents came up for hearing before Hon’ble Mr Justice R.M. Lodha and Hon’ble Mr Justice H.L. Gokhale.  Upon hearing the counsel the Court issued notice returnable on April 20th 2012.  

Reports quoting Italian Minister Giampaolo Di Paola,  state his comments  that the out of court payment has “nothing to do” with the judicial procedures in progress. He pressed Italy’s position that the incident happened in international waters and insisted that Italy would “go to bat with force” to have its position recognized that jurisdiction for the case belongs to Italy.  Similarly, the settlement is between the petitioners representing the deceased and the vessel and should in no way affect the Govt’s criminal case against the two marines

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.

1 comment:

  1. 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.