The killing of two Indian fishermen—Ajesh Binki (25) and Jalastein (45)—by guards of an Italian merchant vessel Enrica Lexie off Alappuzha coast in Kerala on Wednesday violates both the country's and international maritime laws.
The Italian version, that the guards shot at the fishermen in self-defence, mistaking them to be pirates, is unconvincing and breaks all protocol.
Even assuming that real pirates had attacked them, the reaction of the Italian ship was still not right.
The International Maritime Organisation's 'Revised interim guidance to shipowners, ship operators, and shipmasters on the use of privately contracted armed security personnel on board ships in the high risk area', adopted on 16 September 2011, clearly states:
"PMSC (Private maritime security companies) should require their personnel to take all reasonable steps to avoid the use of force. If force is used, it should be in a manner consistent with applicable law. In no case should the use of force exceed what is strictly necessary, and in all cases should be proportionate to the threat and appropriate to the situation.
"PMSC should require that their personnel not use firearms against persons except in self-defence or defence of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury, or to prevent the perpetration of a particularly serious crime involving grave threat to life."
Ironically, the above guidelines are for extremely dangerous sea waters like the Gulf of Aden. Even then, great caution is advised on the use of force, keeping it to the minimum as much as possible.
The Indian fishing team of 11 was in their country's waters and unarmed. They had their nets laid on the sea and were waiting for the catch. It is important to find out what kind of threat to the lives of Italian crew and ship existed from these people toiling for their livelihoods.
The Italians are coming up with fancy stories of piracy when the threats never existed.
"It has been reported to this Directorate that the Italian flagged MV Enrica Lexie resorted to firing on an Indian fishing vessel in position 09 20N 075 52E (heading 345 speed 14 kts) at 1700 Hrs on 15th February 2012. The vessel MV Enrica Lexie is carrying six Italian armed guards. The firing has reportedly resulted in the death of two Indian fishermen. The vessel was bound from Singapore to Egypt with a crew of 19 Indians. The Coast Guard intercepted the vessel and escorted her to Kochi for investigation. The vessel has anchored at Kochi on 15th February 2012 at 2300hrs (IST). The Principal Officer, MMD Kochi has been directed to conduct the preliminary inquiry into this incident resulting in the loss of life of two innocent Indian fishermen," the Directorate General of Shipping press release said, according to ibnlive.com.
It is significant that 19 Indians were also part of the crew and whether their intervention was sought in the matter is worth knowing.
Although the Italian Embassy in New Delhi is assuring cooperation with Indian authorities, ambassador Giacomo Sanfelice di Monteforte maintained that the Italian ship was attacked on international waters. There is also the news that Italy is trying to pressure India in releasing its guards and captain.
The captain of the Italian ship is reportedly refusing to come on land. There cannot be double standards of cooperation. Either you cooperate or you do not.
Prima facie the case appears to be one of murder by a better-equipped party on high seas. In that light, the crew should be tried under section-302 of the Indian Penal Code or under section-304 of the IPC that refers to culpable homicide not amounting to murder. Defence Minister AK Antony also said that it was an unfortunate incident and the law should take its own course.
The international maritime community should also be involved to give justice to the victims and it should be realised that no amount of monetary compensation can buy back human lives.
Updated Date: Feb 16, 2012 21:52 PM