Murder of fishermen: tiny Kerala’s win over mighty Italy

The submission of a metallic grey box containing the weapons seized from Italian ship Enrica Lexie before the first class judicial magistrate in Kollam today symbolised the victory of the modest local police against the might of a western European country.

After a recording of the inventory by the court, the weapons will be taken to the government forensic lab in Thiruvananthapuram.

 Murder of fishermen: tiny Kerala’s win over mighty Italy

Italian marine Massimiliano Latorre with a police official at a government guest house in Kochi on Monday. PTI

Now the law, or rather the Indian law, will take its course. And the Italians will have to cool their heels.

The Italians tried every trick in the book - the customary intimidation, diplomatic onslaught, shrewd lobbying by the Catholic Church and hairsplitting of UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea; but the slow and steady perseverance of the Kerala police worked.

Ten days since the incident occurred, the Italians seem to have realised yesterday that they have to play by the Indian book. They may also helplessly watch the two arrested Italian marines going to jail after the expiry of the police custody.

The Kerala police, deliberately underplayed itself in front of the Italians while local politicians, including the ruling Congress leaders, repeated what the Chief Minister Oomen Chandy said first: that it was a cold-blooded murder.

Chandy took a firm stand on the issue and communicated the same to the Centre. He also warned that the fisherfolk will not let the ship leave the Indian waters without appropriate action.

Chandy maintained that the issue was of utmost priority to his government.

“As of now the most important issue before the government is to ensure that the criminal case is conducted in the best manner possible. The government is also determined to ensure that the Italian vessel pay compensation to the families at the appropriate time,” he told had the media two days ago.

The defence minister, A.K.Antony, also from Kerala, made clear the firm position of the Centre when he said there would be no compromise in pursuing the case as per Indian law.

Given the initial belligerence and anxiety of the Italians to take their men out of India, the story could have been certainly different had the police and the Indian coast guard not taken timely action in bringing the ship to the Indian waters.

On receiving reports of the firing from the fishing boat after it returned to shore with the two fishermen killed due to the shooting, the first task of the authorities was to locate the ship that fired at them.

There were a few ships that passed through the shipping channel on the western coast of Kerala around the time of the incident. The maritime monitoring systems in Kochi helped them identify the ships,  undertake a smart enquiry to eliminate the ones that were not involved, and zero in on the possible culprit. It could have been an easy hit-and-scoot case, but for the timely action.

Once the ship was brought to the oil tanker berth at the Kochi port, the local police knew that ultimately the Italians will come around. And they did, after raising objections ranging from diplomatic immunity to sovereignty of the ship as a territory under the Italian flag.

When the police, along with the Indian Navy, coast guard and customs, boarded the ship and searched it for about 14 hours yesterday, the Italian specialists flown in specially to supervise the raid could only witness the process.

The Italians also examined the fishing vessel hit by Italian bullets and took pictures. They had been specifically asked by the court not to conduct any investigation.

Meanwhile, reports suggested that the extension of the police custody helped the Italians avoid jail. Some even suggested a trade-off between the police and the Italian officials.

However, once the police custody is over, they will have to be remanded further and sent to jail. At present, they are on a 14-day remand.

Right from the beginning, India maintained that it was a law and order issue and had nothing to do with diplomacy. The action by the Kerala police proved that at least this time, these words also meant business.

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Updated Date: Feb 27, 2012 17:12:55 IST