Italian vessel violated laws: Experts

via PNS | Kochi published on February 17, 2012

The Italian authorities are trying to project Wednesday’s firing from cargo vessel Enrica Lexie off the Neendakara coast in Kerala in which two fishermen were killed as an act of self-defence but experts in maritime law say that neither the shipping company nor Italy can escape the responsibility for the act, which was against shipping protocols and the country’s laws.

They also say that the Italian authorities’ second argument that the ship’s personnel had opened fire at the fishermen thinking that they were pirates also was legally invalid. The statements of the fishermen on the targeted fishing boat also is supportive of this view as they say that they were continued to be fired upon “mercilessly” despite their cries to cease fire.

Two fishermen, Valentine Jelestine (48) of Muthakkara, Kollam and Ajesh Binki (26) from Kulachal, on board fishing boat St Antony were killed in the gunfire from the vessel about 14 nautical miles off the Neendakara coast at about 4.30 pm Wednesday.

An expert in maritime law said that private shipping companies “should require that their personnel not use firearms against persons except in self-defence or defence of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury, or to prevent the perpetration of a particularly serious crime involving grave threat to life.” Available evidences proved that no such situation existed in the case of the firing by the personnel of Enrica Lexie, it is said.

Unconfirmed reports on Thursday said that the firing could have been carried out by the personnel of Italian Navy on board the vessel, anchored now some 12 nautical miles off the Kochi coast. Officials from the Coast Guard and the Kochi city police were questioning the crew on board the vessel even late Thursday evening.

A senior Italian diplomat reached Kochi on Thursday evening, held discussions with the City Police Commissioner and left for the vessel anchored in the sea. The Kochi police had earlier taken the personnel aboard the ship into custody. Any further proceedings would be on the basis of the information coming out of the questioning, sources said.

There were also reports that the ship’s captain was refusing to cooperate with the interrogators and that he was persisting in his argument that he would speak only after meeting the Italian diplomat. Officials of the Kochi police were trying to get the ship’s crew to the shore for further questioning.

However, top police officials said that they could not reveal anything at this stage as diplomatic issues were involved. A Coast Guard source said that the force could not still trust the claim of the ship’s crew and the Italian embassy that international maritime laws had not been violated.

Contradicting the claims of the Italian embassy that sufficient warning had been given to the fishing boat, Freddy, owner of the boat, said upon arrival at Neendakara from outer sea that there were no warnings. “I understood what was happening only after seeing Jelestine writhing in pain with blood gushing out of his body,” Freddy said.

He said that they came under fire from the vessel when nine of the 11 fishermen on the boat were sleeping after lunch. “Jelestine was at the wheel and Pinku was at the prow as the boat was moving towards the Neendakara shore.  I got up hearing the shrill cry of Jelestine and then I saw him writhing in pain after being hit by bullets,” the boat owner said.

“The bullets were coming like a rain from the ship despite our repeated calls to cease fire. When I felt that they would kill us all, I asked my men to lie down on the floor of the boat. As the boat lost control, I took up driving and it was then Binki was hit. The firing was so intense that nobody could approach Binki,” he said.

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