Fishermen’s killing: India-Italy differences unresolved; court toughens stance

New Delhi/Kochi : India and Italy Tuesday sought to “clear the air” over the killing of two Indian fishermen by two Italian marines, but failed to resolve their differences, with New Delhi firm in trying the naval personnel under Indian laws and Rome reiterating the incident attracted international law.

On its part, the Kerala High Court, which had previously asked the owner of Italian cargo vessel Enrica Lexie and the families of the two slain fishermen if they were interested in an out-of-court settlement for determining compensation, later asked the ship’s owner to deposit Rs.3 crore (around $600,000) if it wanted the vessel released.

The Coast Guard also filed a statement pointing out that when the Feb 15 incident took place, the ship was at 20.5 nautical miles from the Kerala coast, which is known as the “contingent zone”. It also said that the St Antony boat on which the two men who were killed were fishing was 100 meters away from the Italian ship, to which it was never a threat.

In New Delhi, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna met his Italian counterpart Giulio Maria Terzi di Sant’ Agata, during which the killing of the two fishermen figured prominently. Agata and his delegation arrived in Kochi late Tuesday and he is expected to meet Kerala Chief Minister Oomen Chandy Wednesday.

After the talks, Krishna said at a joint press briefing that “strong public opinion” existed in both countries over the issue and stressed that both sides have agreed to clear the air.

“We met in the backdrop of an unfortunate incident involving the death of two Indian fishermen and the subsequent detention of two Italian navy personnel. There is strong public opinion on both sides,” Krishna said.

“Minister Terzi and I agreed that we need to clear the air so that people in both countries are reassured of our will and commitment to strengthen our partnership,” he said.

“We are of the view that our relations are mature and based on strong foundations. This gives us the ability to address challenges together,” he said while stressing enormous scope for expanding the bilateral relationship.

The Italian foreign minister, who came here close on the heels of the visit of his deputy, regretted the deaths but admitted that differences of opinion persisted with India on the issue.

“I have expressed the condolences of Italy and the Italian people over the unfortunate, tragic loss of lives,” said Terzi.

He appreciated India’s readiness to allow Italian observers in the judicial process which has been initiated in Kerala to investigate the chain of events leading to the killing of the two Indian fishermen. There was, however, no breakthrough in the talks.

“I have explained frankly the position of our government on the legal aspect. International law should try the Italian men. There is difference of opinion on this and it has not been resolved,” Terzi said.

“We hope to pursue the matter in a friendly spirit, understanding and cooperation,” he added.

Official sources, however, made it clear that there was no change in India’s position and insisted that the Marines will be prosecuted according to the Indian law.

Terzi said the incident was triggered by the widespread threat of piracy and exhorted greater cooperation with India in combating piracy.

Two Indian fishermen, Ajesh Binki and Gelastine, were mistaken as pirates and shot dead by the security crew of the Enrica Lexie on February 15. Two Italian Marines have been arrested for the shooting.

Latorre Massimillano and Salvatore Girone have been remanded by a court in Kollam, 150 km from Kerala capital Thiruvananthapuram, to 14 days police custody.

Last week, the two sides sought partial accommodation when the Kerala court hearing the shooting case allowed joint ballistic examination of the weapons used in the killing.

Last week Italy filed a petition in the Kerala High Court seeking dismissal of the murder case against Latorre and Girone.

Gelastine’s wife Doramma has demanded compensation of Rs.1 crore (around $200,000). Binki’s sisters have demanded Rs.2 crore (around $400,000).

Freddy, the owner of the fishing boat on which the two Indians were killed, has also sought Rs.75 lakh for the damage caused to his boat by the firing.

Earlier, the court had ordered the ship owner to submit a bank guarantee of Rs.25 lakhs each for the families of the two killed fishermen and Rs.10 lakh for the damage caused to the boat.

The bench also made it clear that the ship, now berthed in Kochi, will not leave till a decision is taken on the issue of compensation.

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