Enrica Lexie case
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On 15 February 2012, Italian marines operating as part of a Vessel Protection Detachment (VPD) on-board Italian-flagged commercial oil-tanker MT Enrica Lexie, allegedly opened fire on the St. Antony killing two Indian fisherman on board. Ballistics tests undertaken subsequently linked weapons used by two members of the VPD team aboard the MT Enrica Lexie to fragments of the bullets that killed the two Indian fisherman. The incident has sparked a conflict of opinions over legal jurisdiction and functional immunity between the governments of India and Italy. In addition, it continues to cause diplomatic tension between the two nations.
The episode raised 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.
- 1 Events Chronology
- 2 Dispute as to existence of a piracy threat
- 3 Italian investigations
- 4 Compensation, Civil Claims and Ex Gratia Payments
- 5 Court proceedings
- 6 Diplomatic fallout
- 7 Other related developments
- 8 References
On 15 February 2012, Indian nationals Ajesh Binki and Valentine aboard the St Antony were killed as a result of gunshot wounds following a confrontation with the Enrica Lexie off the Indian coast. The nature of the confrontation has been in contention. The MV Enrica Lexie was travelling from Singapore to Egypt with a crew of 34 including 19 Indians and accompanied by six Italian navy marines, Captain of the St Antony, Freddie Louis claimed that his vessel was returning from its fishing expedition in the Laccadive Sea when men on board the Enrica Lexie began firing at them without provocation for approximately two minutes. According to the Indian Coast Guard and crew of the St Antony, the incident occurred at approximately 16:30 IST on 15 February 2012 when the St Antony was approximately 20.5 nautical miles off the Indian coast.
After the incident, the Enrica Lexie was intercepted in the Lakshadweep archipelago and compelled to proceed to Kochi port by the Indian Coast Guard. The Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi, in an open letter to Italian newspaper Eco di Bergamo, alleged that "the entering of the Enrica Lexie into Indian waters has been the result of a subterfuge by the local police, who required the ship master to head for the port of Kochi in order to contribute to the identification of some suspected pirates." On 30 March 2013, Indian Foreign minister Salman Khurshid rejected claims of subterfuge as unsubstantiated.
Two Italian soldiers, Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, were remanded to judicial custody for interrogation on charges of homicide under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code. Based on postmortem carried out on 16 February 2012, Kerala Police charged the two marines with murder police registered a case of murder against the armed guards of the Enrica Lexie. The autopsy linked the 5.56mm NATO ammunition with the guns used by the two marines. On 4 April 2013, the Indian National Investigation Agency (NIA) filed a FIR against the two Italian marines in relation to charges including murder, attempted murder, mischief, conspiracy. 
In January 2014, India decided to prosecute the Italian marines under the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation (SUA). The SUA Convention was passed in 1988 with the goal of suppressing international terrorism. Italy criticised the prosecution pursuant to the SUA Convention as equating the incident to an act of terrorism. On 7 March 2014, the India dropped the SUA charges against the marines. On 7 February 2014, the charges were downgraded from murder to violence meaning the marines would not face the death penalty if convicted.
In June 2013, Italian media reported that four other members of the VPD team were not in the ship's citadel after the general alarm was sounded and speculated that the two marines held in India might have taken responsibility for the actions of other members of the VPD team.
Dispute as to existence of a piracy threat
The Indian coast forms part of the "High Risk Area" for pirate attacks. On 21 February 2012, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reported that a Greek flagged tanker, the Olympic Flair, sailing approximately 2.5 nm from the port of Kochi was attacked on the same day of the Enrica Lexie. The ICC – in a communication to the Italian Navy – confirmed the IMO number of the vessel thereby confirming it was indeed the Olympic Flair.
The Indian Coast Guard stated that while it was accepted procedure to report piracy events or suspicious activities immediately to Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC), the MT Enrica Lexie continued sailing for 70 km on its route to Egypt without reporting the incident. The ship reported the shooting only when contacted by the Coast Guard about two and a half hours after the incident, upon which they were asked to proceed to Kochi.
Umberto Vitelli, Master of the Enrica Lexie deposed to Indian investigators that he was surprised by the marines' decision to open fire and that it was only after he heard gunshots that he increased to full speed, sounded the foghorn and the general alarm. In addition, the ship's Chief Officer James Mandley Samson stated to Kerala police that despite having binoculars "I couldn't see any person with weapons in the boat". Depositions given by the two marines to Indian investigators regarding the use of live-fire in the direction of an approaching fishing boat stated that Massimiliano Latorre fired 12 rounds of ammunition and Salvatore Girone fired eight in two bursts as warning shots.
Italian news agencies quoted Vice-Captain Charles Noviello as saying : "I'm sure the boat that came close was not the St. Antony. They do not match some details of the vessel I have seen and what I have been shown in the picture of the officials of the Indian Merchant Navy." In a telephone interview with Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata (ANSA), he added "I remember the cabin, where there was the helm, was of a different color from what I saw later in the picture." Noviello, who was present at the time when Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone opened fire, added : "none of the people on the boat fell to the ground(...) the boat was 40–50 meters from the tanker (...) I saw that there were 5 or 6 people on board, but I'm not sure if it was more."
In the court affidavit filed by the two marines urging the Kerala High Court to quash the FIR (First Information Report) against them, the document states: "The master of the vessel increased the speed of the ship to 14 knots (about 28 km/per hour) and reduced the speed to 13 knots once the piracy attack was averted. The master also activated the Ship Security Alert System (SSAS) which sent out signals to the Italian Maritime Rescue and Coordination Centre (MRCC). The master also reported the incident on the mercury chart which links together and transfers information to the community including several navies across the world fighting piracy, including to the Indian Navy headquarters. The 'Military Report' was also done. A report was sent to MSCHOA at UK. Since the attempted attack was averted, the vessel continued on its scheduled course of journey." No documentary evidence was supplied in support of the affidavit.
On 26 February 2012, a five-member team of Italian naval officials examined the fishing boat St. Antony berthed at Neendakara fishing harbour. The Italian team consisted of Major General Paolo Romano, Admiral Alessandro Piroli, Major Luca Flebus, Major Paolo Fratini and Commander Geam Paul. In March 2012, Italian prosecutors opened an investigation into potential criminal negligence by the marines. On 10 May 2012, the four other members of the VPD team told reportedly told prosecutors that they didn't witness the shooting. Whilst in Italy for the Christmas vacation Massimilano Latorre and Salvatore Girone were also interviewed by prosecutors. In addition, the marines were interviewed before a military tribunal in Rome in March 2013.
On 6 April 2013, an Italian military report into the incident, dated 11 May 2012, was leaked. The report confirmed that it was the St Antony that had been involved in the incident and that bullets used in the incident were fired from rifles assigned to the two marines. The report also found that the Enrica Lexie had failed to take appropriate anti-piracy measures during the incident.
Compensation, Civil Claims and Ex Gratia Payments
The Government of Kerala granted solatium of 500,000 Indian rupees to the victim's families. The Government of Tamil Nadu also granted solatium of 500,000 rupees Ajesh Binki's family. In addition to the commentary compensation the Government Kerala also employed Gelastine's wife. In addition, civil claims were commenced against the owner of the Enrica Lexie by Gelastine’s family, Ajesh Binki’s sisters and Freddy J, owner of the St Antony. Subsequently, the Government of Italy made a contentious without prejudice offer of 10,000,000 rupees to the victim’s relatives. This was later objected to by the Supreme Court of India on 30 April 2013 which stated that it was "a challenge to the Indian judicial system, this is impermissible [and was] most unfortunate". The following month, Italy clarified that the offer was not compensation in relation to the on-going proceedings but "by way of compensation in the proceedings initiated by them but by way of goodwill and gesture" and would be prevented from precluding claims by virtue of Article 142 of the Constitution of India,
On 23 February 2012, the Kerala High Court admitted the petition filed by the Italian Consul General in Mumbai and the two accused Marines to stay all further proceedings in the case against the two marines. The petition submitted that Kerala Police had no authority to conduct investigation in the case and that courts in India had no jurisdiction as the incident had occurred beyond Indian territorial waters. In response, the court granted one week's time to Kerala state and Central government in Delhi to file counter affidavits. On the same day, the Sessions Court in Kollam, extended by another week the police custody of the two Italian Marines charged with shooting death of two fishermen. The Kerala High Court also advised the Italian government and its two navy marines to cooperate with the ongoing investigation in response to the petition filed on 21 February seeking a stay on proceeding and quashing of the FIR.
On 4 September 2012, the Indian Supreme court heard a petition filed by Italy on behalf of the Italian Marines seeking to quash court proceedings in Kerala on the basis that the two soldiers were entitled to functional immunity. In response, India denies any such immunity citing the lack of any international treaty regarding immunity from prosecution for Vessel Protection Detachments (VPD) on board privately owned merchant vessels. Further, Italy argued that as the incident occurred within India's Contiguous Zone India lacked jurisdiction over the vessel. Despite the limits as set out in UNCLOS, India relied on customary international law to assert jurisdiction leading one academic commentator to note that "India wants to press its maritime sovereignty to the limit through an intersection of UNCLOS grants and readings of its own statutes". On 18 January 2013, the Supreme Court dismissed the Italian Government's argument with Justice Chelameshwaran was "of the opinion that sovereignty is not 'given' but it is only asserted. No doubt, under the Maritime Zones Act, Parliament expressly asserted sovereignty of this country over the territorial waters but simultaneously, asserted its authority to determine/alter the limit of the territorial waters". This finding meant that under Indian law India's contiguous zone could be treated as part of India's territorial sea, effectively granting India a territorial sea of 24 nautical miles despite it only being entitled to a 12 nautical mile territorial sea under international law. However, the Supreme Court found that the State of Kerala did not have jurisdiction beyond the 12 nautical mile limit and that a special federal court be established to try the marines.
Between India and Italy
On 16 February 2012, the Italian ambassador in Delhi, Giacomo Sanfelice di Monteforte, was summoned to the Indian Ministry of External Affairs and an official protest at the incident was lodged. The next day, the then-Indian External Affairs Minister S M Krishna informed the Italian Foreign Minister in a telephone conversation that the fishermen were unarmed and posed no threat to any ship. The filing of murder charges against the marines by the SIT on 18 May 2012 prompted Italy to recall its ambassador from India. In December 2012, the Indian Ambassador to Italy was summoned to the Italian Foreign Ministry and informed of Italy's "strong disappointment and profound bitterness" with the finding of the Indian Supreme Court on the question of jurisdiction. In addition, Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi and Deputy Foreign Minister Staffan De Mistura mentioned that legal and political-diplomatic initiatives would be initiated at the international level. Italian media reports claimed that Italy may pursue India in the International Court of Justice.
On 11 March 2013, a dispute erupted after Italy reneged on its promise to return the Marines to India for trial. The Italian Prime Minister later reversed this decision and returned the Marines to India. According to Italian Prime-Minister Mario Monti: "The government decided, also in the interests of the marines, to maintain the commitment taken when they were granted leave to take part in the elections to return to India by 22 March". Italian and Indian officials have hinted that the marines, if convicted, could serve the rest of their jail term in Italy under provisions of a bilateral prisoner exchange treaty.
On 20 February 2014, the Italian authorities were informed that a live bullet was found in the mailbox of the Indian Embassy at Rome. India demanded Italy guarantee the safety of its embassy staff in compliance with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
On 24 April 2014, Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini told the Italian legislature that unless India cooperates by negotiating an end to the case, Italy would seek international arbitration. On 4 June 2014, India's Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj argued Mogherini's proposal would amount to political interference in matters before Indian courts.
On 11 February 2014, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated that the issue should be addressed "bilaterally, rather than with the involvement of the United Nations". Spokesperson Martin Nesirky added that the Secretary-General was concerned that the ongoing dispute remained unresolved and was prompting tensions between India and Italy and was "concerned that the matter may have implications for wider common efforts and collaboration around matters of international peace and security, including anti-piracy operations." On 12 February 2014, the Italian Foreign Minister criticised the stance of the Secretary-General informing the Italian legislature it was "simply taking the middle ground ... ignoring two sides' arguments". On 6 January 2015, a few days before his visit to India, the Secretary-General conveyed his concern that the ongoing dispute continued to sharpen tensions and that Italy and India should seek "a reasonable and mutually acceptable solution". The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed concern regarding the "respect of human rights" of the two Italian marines.
On 12 February 2014, the NATO Secretary-General responded to a question from an Italian journalist from ANSA "Q: Secretary General, as you know, two Italian marines are held in India since two years. And they are prosecuted under the anti-piracy and anti-terrorism law, according to Lady Ashton and the Italian Foreign Minister Bonino, this implies that Italy is a terrorist state. And how can such an accusation affect the international operations for anti-piracy and generally speaking the Italian nation abroad?". Transcripts of Catherine Ashton's statements available on the EEAS press office website do not give reason to the ANSA journalist's allegation that Baroness Ashton has endorsed the Italian view that it has been equated to a terrorist State by India. Anders Fogh Rasmussen responded in his personal capacity that : "I am, personally, very concerned about the situation of the two Italian sailors. I'm also concerned by the suggestion that they could be tried for terrorism offences. This could have possible negative implications for the international fight against piracy. A fight which is in all our interest! So I trust that we will see an appropriate resolution soon."
The European Union (EU)
On 10 February 2014 EU High Representative Catherine Ashton informed the EU Foreign Relations Council that she was concerned that the marines are to be charged under anti-piracy laws for the killing of two Indian fishermen and that it would have "huge implications" for Europe's fight against piracy. "Having said that, I've also made it clear to my dear friend Emma Bonino, to the Italian government, and to the members of the EU, that the EU remains very steadfast in our support to get this resolved in a straightforward manner quickly, and that two years is a very long time for us to see this drag on and that is the point I've made on numerous occasions." The EUHRVP also added : "A lot of the work on this, you'll understand, is done quietly – for good reasons."
On 17 December 2014, European Union's new foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has expressed her disappointment over the Indian Supreme Court's decision on the case of two Italian marines and warned that the issue could impact on EU-India relations. "The decision to deny the plea of Massimiliano Latorre for an extension of his stay in Italy for medical treatment and to refuse Salvatore Girone permission to spend the Christmas period at home is disappointing, as a long awaited mutually agreed solution has not yet proved possible," said Mogherini, a former Italian foreign minister, in a statement. "The situation of these two European military personnel has been pending for almost three years now. The EU has consistently called for a mutually agreeable solution, in the interest of both Italy and India, based on international law. The issue has the potential to impact the overall European Union-India relations and has also a bearing on the global fight against piracy, to which the EU is strongly committed," she stated.
On 14 January 2015, European MEPs appealed to the Italian government not to forget the two victims of the Enrica Lexie incident and urged EUHRVP Federica Mogherini, who was formerly Italian Foreign Minister, not to hold the wider economic interests of European member states hostage to the bilateral dispute between Italy and India. The European Parliament passed a non-binding resolution which called for a rapid resolution to the case of killing of Indian fishermen by Italian marines within the rules of International Law and Human Rights. Stalled EU-India FTA has prevented Italy from gaining political leverage through trade negotiations.
The incident was cited as a reason for the delay in the European Union suggesting dates for an EU-India summit during the Indian Prime Minister's visit to Europe in April 2015. Cesare Onestini, the charge d'Affaires of the Delegation of the European Union to India said: "No date has been formally proposed to the Indian side." Strained relations with the European Union's High Representative for External Affairs who was also the former Italian foreign minister, Federica Mogherini, led to the cancellation of a visit to Brussels to meet with the new leadership of the Institutions of the European Union. Mogherini told the European Parliament in January 2015 that "it's good for everyone to be fully aware of how much of an impact the unresolved dispute of the two Italian Navy officials can have on relations between the EU and India. It is putting them to the test".
In June 2014, before the start of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, the Italian Football Federation released two official blue t-shirts printed with the names of the captured marines, to express the Federation's support to them. The t-shirts were then shown to the marines in India by the Italian defence minister Roberta Pinotti, via video conferencing.
In addition, Ferrari was criticised after it displayed Italian Navy ensigns on F1 cars competing at the 2012 Indian Grand Prix. A statement on the company's website read "Ferrari will carry the flag of the Italian Navy on the cars driven by Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa [to pay] tribute to one of the outstanding entities of our country, also in the hope that the Indian and Italian authorities will soon find a solution to the situation currently involving two sailors from the Italian Navy." A spokesperson for the Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson reported noted that the use of "sporting events to promote a cause which is not of a sporting nature and one which is sub judice is not in keeping with the spirit of sport".
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I am, personally, very concerned about the situation of the two Italian sailors. I'm also concerned by the suggestion that they could be tried for terrorism offences. This could have possible negative implications for the international fight against piracy. A fight which is in all our interest! So I trust that we will see an appropriate resolution soon.
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legislation that appears to be used suggests that somehow this is about terrorism and this has enormous implications for Italy, but also enormous implications for all countries engaged in anti-piracy activities
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- Cary, Tom (26 October 2012). "Indian Grand Prix 2012: Ferrari risk wrath of officials by flying Italian navy flag". The Daily Telegraph (London).
- "Ferrari's decision to continue sporting Italian navy's flag on their cars at India GP sparks diplomatic row". Sports Arena Media Management Pvt. Ltd. 27 October 2012.