The two Italian Marines case: evidence provided by the Indian Authorities seems to demonstrate their innocence. The international war to Piracy and illegal acts at sea is still an issue. Every week some merchant ships are taken or attacked by pirates in the Eastern Seas, Horn of Africa and West Africa.
Pirates are getting organised assuming a role that is not so romantic as in the Johnny Depp’s movies but very close to Mafia like style. Even robust ransoms (over 10 Million dollars) are taking international routes including bank circuits around the Word, as Interpol quoted, financing illicit traffic and terrorism. Some countries approved to board military teams to protecting civilian vessels in order to maintain the freedom of the Sea. However their presence has been discussed because of not completely internationally agreed rules of engagement (ROE). Although drammatic episodes have happened at sea there is a lack of common agreement. An international regulation should be applied to avoid cases as the one of the two Italian Navy Marines still kept, after 2 years, in India on the basis of discussable and unproved arguments.
Let me spend some more words about this painful event. To remember: on 15 February 2012, two Italian Navy petty officers (Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone) operating as part of an anti-piracy vessel Protection Detachment (VPD) on-board Italian-flagged commercial oil tanker MT Enrica Lexie, allegedly opened fire on the St. Antony fishing boat, killing two Indian fishermen. Ballistic tests are still in debate and the Indian position is starting to be doubted by many. One bullet found in the head of one of the Indian victim is 31mm long, bigger than common NATO gun caliber (5.56 mm) used by the Italian Navy marines guns. This has been reported in a recently released Indian Government paper.
Ambassador Giulio Terzi strongly quoted “I risultati delle autopsie consegnati al Tribunale di Amburgo dimostrano la malafede indiana“. i.e. “autopsy results released to the Hamburg Court by the Indian part revealed a bad faith from them”.
How could the Italian Navy Marines be accused to have killed the two fishermen when the bullet evidence denies their involvement?
Was it just a tentative by India to use the event for internal unclear and apparently cynical political reasons?
Apparently, the incident occurred about 20.5 nautical miles from the Indian coast line, according to the Italian submission to the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA). The event has immediately ignited a number of opinions over legal international jurisdiction and functional immunity of the vessel protection personnel between the two governments. Besides, this allegeded violent episode raised legal questions concerning the use of armed guards by commercial shipping.
A senior Indian Government official is reported to have accused the maritime industry of causing the Enrica Lexie incident commenting that it was a “direct result” of the “High Risk Area for piracy extending to the Indian coastline“. However, during one of the SHADE meetings (2012) in Manama (Bahrain), the Yemen representative reported acts of severe violence caused by Indian sailors over Yemeni Fishermen. In particular, Majed Mastour, Yemeni Coast Guard Captain, directly accused the Indian Navy of being responsible for the attack on a Yemeni fishing boat and the wounding of one of them, calling it “irresponsible.” The incident would take place on 20 September. In addition, the official Yemeni accused the Indians of committing abuse and violence after the catch of fishermen. In the days following the meeting, the official gave no further details of other cases of what he called “gratuitous violence and irresponsible” by the Indian Navy against the fishermen Yemenis. The episodes would be at least three. What happened last September has created diplomatic friction, also because India has not provided any response to the request for clarification officially by the government of Yemen.
On 26 June 2015, the Italian government requested submitted an arbitration (to an ″Annex VII Tribunal″) and eventually, on 21 July 2015, sought provisional measures at the International tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) in Hamburg (Germany). Italian government strongly requested that:
“a. India shall refrain from taking or enforcing any judicial or administrative measures against Sergeant Massimiliano Latorre and Sergeant Salvatore Girone in connection with the Enrica Lexie Incident, and from exercising any other form of jurisdiction over the Enrica Lexie Incident;
b. India shall take all measures necessary to ensure that restrictions on the liberty, security and movement of the Marines be immediately lifted to enable Sergeant Girone to travel to and remain in Italy and Sergeant Latorre to remain in Italy throughout the duration of the proceedings before the Annex VII Tribunal.”
On 24 August 2015, ITLOS, by a majority opinion (16 to 9), issued provisional measures in the case and ordered that :
“Italy and India shall both suspend all court proceedings and refrain from initiating new ones which might aggravate or extend the dispute submitted to the Annex VII arbitral tribunal or might jeopardise or prejudice the carrying out of any decision which the arbitral tribunal may render,”
ITLOS also demanded that India and Italy should submit by 24 September 2015 their respective Initial Report on the incident. Regrettably, ITLOS rejected Italy’s request that India provisionally release two marines accused of killing two Indian fishermen, “because that touches upon issues related to the merits of the case”. ITLOS proceedings.
The complete list of written submissions as well as the verbatim transcripts and full video recordings of proceedings are available on the ITLOS website. The repository website documents proceedings relative to case number 2015-28 The Enrica Lexie Incident (Italy v. India) is found at PCA.
As you can see this is still an open issue and one of the two marines is still confined, far from his family (one is now in Italy for serious health problem), on the basis of unproved evidences. We hope that ITLOS will find as fast as possible a legal Solution.