Italy has told an international tribunal that its marines didn’t gun down two Indian fishermen off the coast of Kerala three years ago, an incident that sparked off a diplomatic dispute between the two countries.
Salvatore Girone and Massimiliano Latorre — onboard oil tanker MT Enrica Lexie — had opened fire on an Indian fishing boat, killing two fishermen on February 15, 2012, India’s top anti-terror body the National Investigation Agency had said in its probe report.
“The marines contest the allegation that they fired the shots that killed the unfortunate Indian fishermen,” Italy’s counsel Daniel Bethlehem told the Hamburg-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea on Tuesday.
India has accused Italy of abusing its judicial process and said its version of events was “misleading”.
The tribunal began the two-day hearing on Monday and will pronounce its order on August 24.
“It is not accepted that the fatal shooting took place from the Enrica Lexie. There were other vessels in the area at the time and other reports of pirate attacks,” Bethlehem said, objecting to India’s charge that the marines were murderers.
“I must emphasise the marines have not even been charged with murder under Indian law.” In its final submission, Italy said India be prevented from taking or enforcing any judicial or administrative measures against the two marines.
Latorre is in Italy after being granted leave by the Supreme Court on health grounds. But, Rome wants Girone, who is living in the Italian embassy in New Delhi and has been allowed family visits, back home as well.
If the tribunal would decide in favour of India trying Latorre and Girone, the marines would return to India, Italy said.
ITLOS is an independent body established by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to adjudicate disputes arising out of the interpretation and application of the convention.
India said it had apprehensions about Italy’s ability to fulfil its promises as it had earlier attempted to renege twice on them. It also rejected an offer of a surety of Euro 300,000 for Girone to return to Italy.
During their questioning by the NIA, the two marines had not offered a word in their defence and chose to exercise the option of remaining silent. They have also moved the Supreme Court challenging NIA’s jurisdiction. During a hearing on July 13, Italy made a plea saying it had invoked international arbitration challenging India’s jurisdiction to try its marines.
It had the jurisdiction to probe and try the two men, India told the tribunal, adding the story told by Italy was as “short and straightforward” as it was misleading.