In 2008, Indian Navy got accolades for sinking a “pirate mother ship” but it turned out to be a Thai fishing trawler called “Ekawat Nava 5”
The Italian Ambassador may be facing the prospects of being restrained from leaving India, but killing civilians by mistaking them for pirates is not something unheard of for those on high seas.
In 2008, Indian Navy got accolades for sinking a ‚Äúpirate mother ship‚Äù but much to their dismay it turned out to be a Thai fishing trawler called ‚ÄúEkawat Nava 5‚Äù. The Indian Navy had suspected that there were pirates on board the vessel and shot in self-defence.
The Italian marines on board Enrica Lexie, too had mistaken Indian fishermen for pirates before opening fire on them in February 2012. Little did they know then, that a year later the matter would escalate to a diplomatic row between the two countries.
Globally, shipping companies have refrained from keeping armed guards on board. It was not until two years ago that IMO allowed ships to have armed personnel on board at their discretion, to guard against pirates. Although the IMO is yet to find a solution the problem of piracy, its SUA Convention covers unlawful acts of violence in sea.
The 2005 protocol to the convention makes it ‚Äúan offence to intentionally injure or kill any person in connection with the commission of any of the offences in the Convention.‚Äù According to IMO, any company or a person can be held liable and be made to face sanctions for committing the offence if they are engaged in an unlawful act.
Italian marines, Massimilian Latorre and Salvatore Girone, were part of a military security team aboard Enrica Lexie when they opened fire on a fishing boat in February last year killing the two fishermen. Italy says the shooting occurred in international waters and that Rome should have jurisdiction but India says the ship was in Indian territorial waters.
‚ÄúWhenever there is an instance of piracy and especially if you have taken action against it, you have to inform the International Maritime Bureau. Italian marines did not do that and instead tried to change their route and escape. They must have realized that they have shot the wrong people,‚Äù said Michael Pinto, former shipping secretary.
While Italy is seeking international arbitration in the matter and the United Nations too has called for a peaceful resolution, shipping companies have been left wondering if they are now worse off in fighting the real pirates. Many times Somali pirates leave as fishermen from the coasts and become pirates in the high seas.
‚ÄúFishermen‚Äù have also been found stealing cargo from the ships or trailing vessels to obtain liquor or simply to sell fish caught by them. ‚ÄúHaving an armed force which lacks any discipline on board, can play havoc in the high seas,‚Äù a senior executive of a shipping company said.
There are risks involved in putting armed personnel on board. Shipping lines instead prefer following a set of guidelines provided by International Maritime Organization (IMO) to guard against piracy like bullet proof citadels, rubber pellet guns etc.
Naval forces of various countries including India and China have also come together to escort vessels through vulnerable stretches like the Suez Canal and also for patrolling the waters for any piracy threats. Since the Indian Navy refused to guard merchant vessels on board, several companies had sprung up to offer such personnel for ships.