Indian court remands Italian Marines in custody following shooting incident

Two Italian marines have been remanded to police custody by an Indian magistrate following an apparent breakdown in negotiations between Italian and Indian authorities. The two - named as Latore Massimiliano and Salvatore Girone - were part of a six member security team provided by the Italian government to protect the Italian-flag 104,255 dwt tanker Enrico Lexie against pirates. On February 15, off the coast of Kerala, two Indian fishermen - Valentine Jalastine and Ajeesh Binki- were shot and killed when their vessel approached the tanker. Italian officials said the fishing boat had behaved aggressively and ignored warning shots.

Following the incident, the Indian Coast Guard sent two vessels and a helicopter to intercept the tanker which was en route from Singapore to Egypt, with a crew of 34, including 19 indians.

The Enrico Lexie was then escorted to an anchorage off the port of Kochi in Kerala, where it remains pending a court order allowing it to depart. Indian press reports say that relatives of the two dead fishermen are expected to file a petition Tuesday in the Kerala High Court.

The ship is owned by Dolphin Tankers, a 50/50 joint venture of Grupo Scerni  and D'amato Fratelli Spa, which manages the vessel. The incident involving the Enrico Lexie came almost on the one-year anniversary of the hijacking by Somali pirates of another Dolphin Tankers vessel, the 104,255 dwt  Savina Caylyn, 670 nautical miles east of Socotra Island (See earlier story).

The two marines had been charged with murder under section 302 of the Indian Penal code prior to their appearance before the magistrate.  Earlier in the day, the Italian Foreign Ministry issued this statement:

"Following up on a telephone call from Foreign Minister Terzi To his indian colleague Krishna, a delegation of representatives from three italian ministries arrived in New Delhi this morning. The delegation, accompanied by the Ambassador of Italy, has already met withIndian officials to discuss all the aspects of the case, which the Italian government considers as within its jurisdiction since the incident took place in international waters on a ship flying the Italian flag. Italy has also underscored that the military presence aboard Italian mercantile ships is regulated by a specific Italian law that also corresponds with the needs of UN counter-piracy resolutions. It was pointed out in this context that the military is an organ of the Italian republic and therefore enjoys immunity from prosecution by foreign governments.

"The meeting did not lead to consensus. Contacts and collaboration between the two governments are considered essential to ascertaining the actual facts, in order to counter any unilateral actions undertaken by the police.

"The Consul General of italy in Mumbai is ensuring assistance and protection to the Italian nationals involved, and is in constant contact with the Foreign Ministry’s crisis unit and the experts of the three ministries, and is monitoring all the actions undertaken by the local authorities."

February 20, 2011