Sunday, March 11, 2012

India, Italy Differences Over Killings of Fishermen

India and Italy have failed to resolve their differences over who should probe the killings of two Indian fishermen by Italian marines off the Kerala coast on February 15. The two countries, however, pledged not to allow the incident to cast a shadow on bilateral relations. External Affairs Minister SM Krishna held wide-ranging talks here this afternoon with visiting Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Maria Terzi di Sant’ Agata. However, the February 15 incident in which the two Indian fishermen were killed is understood to have dominated the talks.
The two ministers were quite forthright in restating the positions of their respective countries. Italy is insisting that the incident should be tried according to international laws since it took place in international waters. India, however, maintains that since the incident involved an Indian vessel and those killed were Indian nationals, the two Italians would be tried under Indian laws.
Ajesh Binki (25) and Jalastein (45) were part of an 11-member team that set sail on February 15 night. The guards on board the merchant vessel Enrica Lexie fired at them suspecting the group to be pirates. The Indian fishermen were unarmed and posed no threat to such a big merchant vessel, sources said. There has been no incident of piracy off India's west cost in the last eight months.
One of the fishermen killed is from Tamil Nadu, where fishing boats have often come under attack from the Sri Lankan Navy for crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line. On the eve of 26/11, sailors from Gujarat were killed on the high seas by terrorists.
No Rules of Engagement
Somali pirates have been active off Lakshadweep, close to the Indian mainland. It is, therefore, not unrealistic for a foreign merchant vessel to be extra careful in these parts. India too has been attacked by pirates and patrols these areas, and indeed has a good track record in dealing with this recently emerged threat to international shipping. However, for Indian fishing boats operating around our coastline, no rules of engagement have yet been evolved. It is undeniable that the Italians should have exerted greater care before firing fatal shots against what they mistook to be a pirate vessel.
Somali pirates do range over long distances but are certainly not likely to operate bang off the south-western coast of India. Nine of the other 11 fishermen in the boat were sleeping, and no matter what the Italian ship's crew claim to have seen through their binoculars, the boat posed no visible threat.
Krishna said: “We met in the backdrop of an unfortunate incident involving the death of two Indian fishermen and the subsequent detention of two Italian navy personnel. There is strong public opinion on both sides. The Italian minister had agreed that their two countries ‘need to clear the air’ so that their people were reassured of their will and commitment to strengthen the bilateral partnership.”
Norms and Law
India, however, made it clear that the two Italian marines would face the Indian law since the incident involved Indian nationals and an Indian vessel.
However, the processes through which a country protects its citizens are governed under established norms and the law. If these are taken recourse to with an open mind, well-intentioned negotiations can being relief to victims’ families in the normal course. Regrettably, in the case of the two unarmed Indian fishermen, mistaken for pirates and killed by two Italian Navy guards of a private merchant vessel of that country off the Kerala coast recently, common sense appears to have given way to meaningless nationalist posturing on both sides.
The ties between the two countries were mature and based on strong foundations. The Italian minister, who was here on a visit planned much before the February 15 incident, regretted the deaths but underlined that there were differences between the two countries over the jurisdiction issue. He said: “I have explained frankly the position of our government on the legal aspect. International laws should try the Italian men. There is difference of opinion on this and it has not been resolved.”
The Italian minister also went to Kerala to meet the families of the two fishermen. He also met Chief Minister Oommen Chandy.
Demand of Situation
India is part of the global effort to patrol the piracy-affected sea lanes of the Indian Ocean, but not enough seems to have been done to prevent tragic mix-ups of the kind that cost the lives of two innocent people.
India and Italy need to immediately take professional help to determine whether the tragedy occurred in Indian waters, and then swiftly ascertain jurisdiction through purposeful conversation, without hype. Rome has rushed its deputy foreign minister to New Delhi, and Italy’s foreign minister is also due to arrive soon. We need to de-escalate, look for an early practical solution, and get the case off the diplomatic crisis category.

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Semen Rendi said...
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