By S. Neeraj Krishna
The soldier in Vice-Admiral K.N. Sushil, who retired last May as the senior-most submariner of the Indian Navy, is angry. The highly-decorated officer, who was at the helm of the Southern Naval Command when the Enrica Lexie shooting took place, adheres to his belief that India has the right to try the accused Italian marines who have fled the country.
Excerpts from an interview.
What are your views on the way this case has been handled?
First, I am not an expert on the judicial technicalities involved. But the Supreme Court ruling that a special court should be set up to try the marines clearly establishes the point that we do have jurisdiction to try them.
What about the argument that the shooting took place beyond India’s territorial waters (12 nautical miles)?
Notwithstanding all the confusions and argument, even if such an incident takes place in the EEZ [exclusive economic zone, which extends up to 200 nautical miles], as a sovereign state we are bound to protect the lives of our fishermen. According to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, our fishermen have the right exploit natural resources in the zone. Let me give you a hypothetical situation: what if tomorrow Indian fishermen in this zone come under attack from a foreign vessel, and wave at a Coast Guard or Navy ship for help? Do we retaliate or watch the show?
And there have also been international cases of ‘extended jurisdiction’ being applied. Remember the Americans bombing Tripoli in retaliation to a blast in a Berlin nightclub that killed two American soldiers?
The marines claim they mistook the fishermen for pirates.
Yes, there lies the key point. International Maritime Organisation has laid down some guidelines to prevent misuse of force. On spotting a suspect boat, the first procedure a vessel should follow is to alter its course. Only if the boat, too, alters its course one can confirm there is an attempt to chase.
Second, you can open fire only when the boat is alongside. In this case, it was about 200 yards away when the marines opened fire. Which pirate can embark a vessel from such a distance! Even if they felt threatened, with the advantage of a higher position and all their fancy weapons on board, they could have taken down them one by one if anyone from the boat tried to climb up.
So, you think the whole story is ‚Ä®bunkum?
Yes. In fact, initially they made a false claim of the vessel being shot at. I immediately asked my officers to thoroughly check if there were any bullet marks or chipped paint on the vessel. Nothing was found. Anyway, it was later proven that the fishermen were unarmed.
In plain words, the marines were just trigger-happy?
Of course! It is quite evident, since no standard operating procedures were deployed before opening fire.