Ships can shoot to avert danger: Marines’ counsel

Two days before Italy said the Italian marines charged with killing two Kerala fishermen wouldn’t return to India, a counsel representing them had reiterated that ships are authorised to open fire at a suspicious boat, in view of the growing maritime piracy.

Diljeet Titus of the Titus & Co — the law firm that filed the writ petition in the Supreme Court on behalf of Italy — told Express on Saturday that a UN Security Council resolution, to which India is a signatory, authorises one to protect oneself by resorting to firing, given that Somali pirates operate on the high seas.

In November 2011, the Italian Parliament decided to post military officials with quasi-judicial powers on merchant ships to protect them from pirates. They are under the direct command of the Italian Chief of Naval Staff. Titus said the two Italian marines had participated in a dozen UN operations and won UN medals and bravery awards. Pirates disguising themselves as fishermen is a well known fact, he said, adding that trawlers are allowed to fish within 12 nautical miles while the Italian tanker was 20.5 nautical miles off the Kerala coast.

According to the Ministry of Shipping, there are 3 lakh fishing boats off the Indian coast, which spread their nets up to 50 nautical miles. When merchant vessels approach their fishing nets, it is common for the trawlers to raise alarm and move towards the merchant ships to attract attention. Merchant ships sometimes mistake trawlers for pirate skiffs, Titus quoted a March 7, 2012 note of the ministry as stating.

Titus said the Italian ship first sounded horn when it was 200 metres away from the approaching boat. It flashed lights and then used flares when it was at a 100-metre distance. When the boat was just 50 metres away and was coming straight to the ship, he added, the marines fired at the boat killing two fishermen on board it.

Titus said Italy had expressed regret for this “pure mistake”. The country had already registered a case against the marines and asked India to send an observer, he further said. Italy had paid `1 crore each to the kin of the deceased fishermen in damages.

Meanwhile, senior lawyer Harish Salve, who had appeared for Italy in the SC, said he wouldn’t now appear in the case. Senior advocate and constitutional expert P P Rao told Express that since there is no extradition treaty between the two countries, the problem now has to be resolved diplomatically.


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