Vessel case: Italian team meets MEA officials

New Delhi: An Italian delegation today met senior External Affairs Ministry officials here and discussed the killing of two Indian fishermen by the guards on board an Italian ship with both sides accepting that no armed personnel can fire on unarmed fishermen.

In absence of any legal treaties of bilateral nature to discuss such issues, both sides also decided to carry on with their own investigations into the incident which happened off Kollam coast near Kerala last week. Armed guards of "Enrica Lexie" had fired at the fishermen boat suspecting it to be a vessel belonging to pirates, killing two occupants.

The six-member Italian delegation comprised of members of its Foreign, Legal and Defence Ministries and two from the Italian mission here, including Ambassador Giacomo Sanfelice di Monteforte. The Italian team members, four of whom flew to the capital this morning, met the Indian officials– Secretary (West) S Ganpathy, a senior MHA official and Resident Commissioner of Kerala in New Delhi U K S Chauhan — even as two armed personnel of the Italian vessel were taken into custody by Kerala police today.

"We had a fairly comprehensive discussion whereby we have explained to them the rationale of our position and the situation as it exists today," MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin told reporters. "We have also explained to them that as good partners and as External Affairs Minister S M Krishna had requested yesterday, we hope Italy will cooperate with us in ensuring that law of the land takes its course. We also requested them to fully cooperate with Kerala Police," he said.

Monteforte also said the meeting was successful. While both sides asserted that their country enjoys extra terrestrial jurisdiction in any crime or incident in such situations, India was quick to point out that no military personnel can fire on unarmed fisherman, a point which was accepted by the Italian side also. During the discussions, official sources said, the Italian side appreciated India`s response to the incident but acknowledged that there were no legal treaties of bilateral nature between India and Italy under which they could discuss such issues.

The Ministry officials also told the delegation that law and order was a state subject and they could approach Kerala government and discuss the issue. "Let the law of the land take its own course. We would appreciate and request Italian officials to cooperate with Indian agencies," a senior MEA official said. In reply to Italian side`s remarks that they would take the investigations further, the Indian side offered assistance them in this in terms of logistics and others.

"The bottom line is whatever their court decides is fine, let them carry on with their investigation, and we will carry out our legal process…it took some time to explain this to them but then we made our stand clear," the official said. The official said it was up to the Kerala how they want to proceed with the investigation and there were no hurdles or impediment for the state government for its investigation.

During the discussions, the two sides discussed whether any international conventions apply and checked whether any UN laws on the seas apply but found nothing. Official sources said that the team will also go to Kochi for legal consultations in connection with the case. Krishna had made it clear that the captain and crew of the Italian ship will have to surrender and cooperate in the investigation of the case.

Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi had yesterday called his Indian counterpart Krishna who told him that the captain of the Italian oil tanker must cooperate with Indian law enforcers. The two fishermen — Ajesh Binki (25) and Jalastein (45) — were killed off Kollam coast on February 15 when armed guards of the ship fired at their boat, suspecting it to be a vessel belonging to pirates.