Italian marines face murder charges for shooting Indian fishermen

Marines shoot dead two fishermen they feared were pirates about to attack the tanker they were protecting. India says the guilty must be punished.

NEW DELHI // Italian marines who shot dead two Indian fishermen they thought were pirates are expected to be charged with murder in India.

The marines were on an Italian-flagged oil tanker, the Enrica Lexie, on Wednesday in a part of the Indian Ocean known for its risk of piracy, about 14 nautical miles off the south-western Indian port of Kochi.

The Italian defence ministry said in a statement the tanker crew felt the smaller boat carrying the fishermen was acting hostile and like pirates.

The boat approached as if trying to board and ignored warning shots, the statement said.

There were 11 fishermen on-board. The nine who survived were asleep.

"It's a grey area - the international regulations are not very clear," said Shishir Upadhyaya, research fellow at India's National Maritime Foundation.

"But it is generally accepted that you should not fire unless fired upon and the Italians appear to have broken that rule."

Vice Admiral KN Sushil, India's southern commander, told The Hindu he sent a small warship to check for bullet marks on the Enrica Lexie and found none.

"It is crystal clear that the fishermen were unarmed and were not attempting to come alongside the tanker to board it", he told the paper.

The tanker has docked in Kochi and initial murder charges have been laid under India's complex laws that require further investigations before formal charges.

"We are taking this very seriously. The guilty will have to be punished," India's defence minister, AK Antony said yesterday.

India has voiced its concerns over the increasing use of armed security on ships, particularly after militant attacks in Mumbai that killed 168 people - most of the attackers came in by sea.

Ships need special permission to dock in India if they have weapons on board. Weapons must be locked away in port. This means ships sailing between the Middle East and Asia often prefer to dock in Colombo or Aden for resupplies.

But India accepts private and military security is increasingly necessary given the surge in piracy.

The National Maritime Foundation estimates about 50 groups with about 2,000 to 3,000 pirates operate out of six ports on Somalia's east coast.

Pirate attacks in the Indian Ocean grew to 219 in 2010 from 22 in 2006 and the average ransom for captured seamen to $5.4 million (Dh19.8 million) from $150,000.

"No ship with professional armed security has ever been captured, so it is clearly a good thing," said Mr Upadhyaya. "But their increased use makes incidents like this week's shooting almost inevitable."

Published: February 18, 2012 04:00 AM


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