The Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the release of Italian merchant navy ship Enrica Lexie which was seized after two of its marines had allegedly killed two Indian fishermen off Kerala coast in February this year.
The apex court also allowed four marines and six crew members on board it to leave Indian shores after the Italian government and the ship owner assured it that they will be available when required by Indian legal authorities.
A bench headed by Justice RM Lodha directed the ship owner to execute a bond of Rs three crore before the registrar general of the Kerala High Court as a surety for the presence of crew members and the vessel whenever required by the Indian authorities.
The bench directed that the crew members should be made themselves available before the authorities within five weeks after receiving summons or notice.
It also directed that the vessel be brought before the legal authorities within seven weeks after receiving summons or notice.
The bench, however, made it clear that its order would not affect the right of the Kerala government to conduct the investigation and the prosecution of two marines accused of killing two fishermen.
The apex court had earlier sought the replies of the Centre and the Kerala government on Italian government's plea to quash the criminal cases against its two merchant navy personnel.
In its petition filed under Article 32, the Italian government had asserted that the Kerala Government has no locus standi to register any criminal case as the alleged offence ought to be treated under international law and covenants as India is a signatory to the UN charter.
On another petition by Enrica's owner Dolphin Tankers too, questioning the Kerala High Court's order staying the release of the vessel, the apex court had sought the replies of the Centre, the Kerala government and two relatives of the slain fishermen gunned down by two marines on February 15.
A division bench of the Kerala High Court had earlier, while setting aside a single judge's order, stayed the release of the vessel detained off Kochi port since February 15.
The fishermen, allegedly killed by Italian marines in firing by them at their fishing boat off off Kollam coast were identified as Valentine Jalstine and Ajesh Binki.
Marines Latore Massimiliano and Salvatore Gironi have been arrested and charged with murder and lodged in the central prison in Thiruvananthapuram under judicial remand.