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Saturday, May 5, 2012

Enrica Lexie could sail out and the case might wane !

From that ill-fated day on 15th Feb 2012 when two Indian fishermen were shot dead close to their shores, the vessel Enrica Lexie has been muddled with controversy.  Italian Marines  Salvatore Girone,  and Massimiliano Latorre, claimed all facilities and initially made some drama which subsequently was brought under control. Recently there was news of out-of-court settlement with the family members of the deceased which in legal parlance is alright but in some ways was ‘blood money’ to silence the slain fishermen’s relatives and their community.  The political overtures were complete when the opposition leader VS Achuthanandan  pointed fingers at the state and central governments for an alleged conspiracy in the case.  The State has remained unruffled by the out-of-court settlement and only Press  evinced some interest.

Now it is on its decisive phase and the ‘forced stay’ in Kochi is likely to end.  There are reports that the vessel, which was apprehended by the Kerala officials is all set to leave the Queen of Arabian Sea soon. Once the Kerala High Court accepts a bank guarantee of Rs 3 crore from the vessel owners as directed by the Supreme Court on Wednesday, the vessel will sail off.  The vessel has been under detention since February 17 in the outer channel of the Cochin Port Trust and under the surveillance of the Vessel Traffic Management System (VTMS).  Besides the killing and legal wrangles, the vessel had created enough impact at Kerala during its months long stay.  

Paradoxically, it made BPCL Kochi Refinery make hefty payments as it had to pay demurrage for making other vessels wait in Kochi, though it was no fault of theirs – reports state that the Refinery paid around Rs 1.5 crore, following the Italian vessel’s arrival.  It also inconvenienced the Cochi Port Trust which had to find suitable berthing for scheduled arrivals keeping this vessel in place.  

First on the killing – it is stated that Rs. 1 crore each was paid to the families of slain fishermen and their relatives gave a letter that they have forgiven their Italian brothers.  Two Catholic priests, reportedly played a crucial role in the negotiations between the Italian government and the families.  Reports have it that the families of the fishermen wrote a separate legal letter addressed to the Italian Consul General saying they do not want the Italian marines to be prosecuted.  

After all, it was a compensation paid for killing and the need for such a letter is not easily understood.  Earlier media reported of the interest of Cardinal George Alencherry  in finding out a peaceful solution !  - will this agreement and letter will weaken the ongoing case against the Italian Marines remains to be seen.  The families of the slain fishermen will also withdraw cases that they filed asking for stronger action by the state and central governments.

Slowly the pressure and interest would wane and the case between the Govt of Kerala, the Italians and the Ship owners would lose public attention and would become a crumbled case against money onslaught and some other pressure.  The owner of the boat got only Rs.17 lakhs as compensation, still has not only dropped the case but has also signed an agreement.  The Supreme Court raised objections to the manner in which the Italian government struck a deal with the relatives  and questioned the Kerala government as to why it did not oppose the compromise reached between the families of the deceased fishermen and the Italian vessel’s owners.  However, the Court was not in favour of  detaining the vessel crew and the two marines unless their presence was required by the investigating authorities.

The owners’ statement stating crucial factors such as a fisherman without licence handling the boat, the boat cruising at high speed towards the ship without headlights despite the blaring sirens and flashlights from the ship, and the place where the incident occurred could all become vital evidences and sound death-knell for the case of the State.   

So there could be further U turns and many surprises before the final verdict is out.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.

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