Author Topic: Insight: Murder trial of Italian marines in India navigates murky waters  (Read 508 times)

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Offline EC

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Via Reuters:

(Reuters) - The thud of bullets smacking into his wooden fishing boat jolted captain John Freddy out of his afternoon nap. He saw one of his crew slumped dead over the helm and then, seconds later, another shot in the chest. The man cried out for his mother before falling dead on the deck, Freddy would later tell Indian police.

Indian prosecutors allege the two Indian fishermen were shot by two Italian marines serving as security guards on an Italian-flagged oil tanker, the Enrica Lexie, about 20 nautical miles off the southern Indian state of Kerala in February last year.

The marines, Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, are awaiting trial in New Delhi on charges of murder. Their Indian lawyers say their clients mistook the fishermen for pirates and fired warning shots into the water. The two marines do not admit killing anyone or aiming directly at the fishing boat.

"How could they kill with warning shots?" a lawyer for the marines, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media, told Reuters. "These men had ample experience as vessel protection detachment personnel. Murder is out of the question."

A Reuters reconstruction of the events surrounding the shooting - based on interviews with members of the fishing boat crew, witness statements to Kerala police and chargesheets - reveals a confused account of what warnings were given, and when, before the two marines fired two volleys of shots from their assault rifles.

A key question at the heart of the Enrica Lexie case is whether the ship's crew followed established shipping industry guidelines on the use of all non-lethal measures, including evasive action, before using force as a last resort.

The incident is the first known fatal shooting involving military personnel on a commercial vessel. It has shone a spotlight on the loosely regulated, nearly two-year-old practice of placing private and military armed guards on ships as protection against pirate attacks.

The case navigates uncharted legal waters. Maritime experts say it is the first test of whether military personnel enjoy sovereign immunity aboard commercial vessels, who should authorize the use of lethal force - the ship's captain or the commander of the security team - and how far out to sea a country's laws can be enforced.

"I hope this has drawn attention to the grey areas in jurisdiction over armed guards," said Peter Hinchliffe, secretary general of the London-based International Chamber of Shipping, which represents more than 80 percent of the world's merchant fleet.

"There is a real and present need for the development of international regulation over the use of armed force to defend world trade as it is carried around the world in merchant ships," Hinchliffe told Reuters.

Much, much more at link. Well worth the admittedly long read.
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