Outraged India orders probe into sea killings

Italian ship brought to Kochi harbour

Outraged India orders probe into sea killings

A diplomatic stalemate followed a day after shots fired from an Italian ship M V Enrica Lexie killed two Indian fishermen off the Kerala coast, with an outraged New Delhi lodging a strong protest with that country’s ambassador here on Thursday.

The protest was lodged even as Rome claimed that security personnel on board the vessel “fired to fend off pirates.” To make matters worse, the ship’s captain refused to cooperate with investigations and come to the Kochi port for questioning by the Kerala police who have also not been allowed to board the ship to examine other sailors.

However, according to late ev­ening reports reaching the Ministry of External Affairs, Kerala police personnel boarded the vessel after the crew refused to disembark and registered a case of murder against the crew members responsible for opening fire on the innocent fishermen, Ajesh Binki, 25, and Jalastein, 45.

Subsequently, the Direct­o­r­ate-General of Shipping, headquartered in Mumbai, ordered an enquiry into the gunning down of the fishermen. The probe would be headed by the Principal Officer, Mercantile Maritime Department stationed in Kochi who has been di­rected to conduct the investi­g­ation and submit a report quickly.

Kollam Police Commissioner Devesh Kumar Behra told Deccan Herald that cases were filed based on the statements of colleagues of those killed on the ill-fated boat which was challenged by unprovoked gunfire 22 nautical miles off the Kerala coast on the Arabian sea.

The Italian ship was brought to Kochi coast by the Coast guard and the Indian Navy and was anchored off the Kochi coast. Earlier in the day, while the crew members stood their ground, the Kerala police also hardened its stand, requesting the Navy to ensure that the Enrica Lexie dropped anchor at Kochi harbour.

Italian Ambassador Giacomo Sanfelice di Monteforte met Secretary (West) M Ganapathi after being summoned to the Ministry of External Affaits at South Block.
After the meeting, Monteforte told reporters that the “facts (involving the circumstances leading to the killing of the fishermen) were yet to be clarified” as the Italian navy personnel onboard the ship followed international protocol as it was approached by a vessel which did not stop when flash lights were shone over it.”

The ambassador, however, said that “we are working in very close cooperation with Indian authorities. It is in any case a very sad incident. What I want to underline is that the Italian ship moved voluntarily into the Kochi port.”

Monteforte’s assetion notwithstanding, Ganapathi made it clear to the Italian envoy that the fishermen had not opened fire on Enrica Lexie and the armed men on board the ship had no reason to mistake them as pirates.

The 58,418-tonne vessel, with a crew of 19 Indians, was on its way from Singapore to Egypt and had six armed Italian Navy personnel onboard. According to a statement issued by the Directorate General of Shipping in Mumbai, the armed men onboard the ship resorted to firing on an Indian fishing vessel at 5 pm on Wednesday.

According to reports the Ministry of External Affairs received from the Indian Coast Guard and Kerala Police, the fishing vessel had 11 fishermen.

In a statement, the Italian embassy in New Delhi alleged that the ship was attacked on international waters about 30 nautical miles off the south west coast of India on Wednesday. “Italian navy personnel onboard following international protocols after repeated warnings and, after ascertaining from binoculars that the pirates were armed, gradually fired some warning shots and the pirates withdrew,” it claimed.

“Later,  the master of the Italian ship was contacted by the Indian Coast Guard and requested to direct towards the Kochi harbour to offer information on the pirate attack. The master had agreed and the ship was now in Kochi harbour,” it added.
“We are in touch with the Indian authorities and we shall work together to clarify all aspects of the incident,” the embassy statement said.

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