Indian fishermen shot dead by Italian anti-piracy team
Conflicting reports after tanker incident off Kerala
Two Indian fishermen have been shot dead after naval security personnel on board the tanker Enrica Lexie took them for pirates about 14 miles off Kerala’s Alappuzha coast on Wednesday afternoon. The victims have been named as Ajesh Binki, 25, and Jalastein, 45.
Conflicting reports are emerging about the incident. The Italian embassy in India claims that the vessel had previously come under attack. However, India’s Directorate General of Shipping has insisted that the two dead men were innocent.
The directorate has confirmed that the guards, who are in custody along with the master of the 2008-built, 104,769 dwt vessel, are Italian naval personnel. Initial reports were unclear on that point, leaving private military contractors to ponder the legal and insurance implications.
The Standard Club has confirmed that it is the P&I insurer for Enrica Lexie , now anchored off Kochi. The P&I club, which was also one of the main P&I clubs covering Costa Concordia , said it could not give further details while the investigation continued.
However, Lloyd’s Market Association senior executive underwriting Neil Smith said this sort of incident was certain to involve the P&I insurers.
“Given the proliferation of armed guards and the continued threat to ships, it is an inevitability that mistakes will occur,” he said. “That fear of escalation and errors was and is behind the thinking of those owners who were and are reluctant to go down the armed route.
“It is not the first time that an innocent vessel has been attacked as it will be recalled that the Indian navy unfortunately made the same mistake a couple of years ago with worse results.”
A security source said this incident was certain to raise liability issues but added that it was difficult to make any judgement until all the facts were known.
“For example, anyone who’s been around for a while will know that at one time if you got too close to the Yemeni coast and ran over fishing nets, the local fishermen in skiffs, with guns in many cases, would open fire to scare you off the fishing grounds. The Indians may have been doing something like that and may have been perceived as a lethal threat,” he said.
“There are so many variables but I think if they were operating to strong rules on the use of force then they must have had a potentially lethal threat.”
According to the Lloyd’s List Intelligence database, Enrica Lexie is associated with Naples-based Dolphin Tanker . Initial attempts to contact the company were unsuccessful.
The incident has already had diplomatic repercussions, when India’s Ministry of External Affairs summoned the Italian ambassador for a dressing-down.
The Press Trust of India, citing unnamed official sources, said that the two people killed were were among 11 fishermen on a boat, nine of them asleep at the time of the incident. The Italians opened fire without prior warning, the sources claimed.
The Italian embassy said in a statement: “The Italian ship was attacked in international waters about 30 miles off the southwest coast of India. Italian navy personnel on board following international protocols, after repeated warnings and after ascertaining from binoculars that the pirates were armed, gradually fired some warning shots and the pirates withdrew.
“Later, the master of the Italian ship was contacted by the Indian coastguards and requested to direct towards the Kochi harbour to offer information on the pirate attack. The master agreed and the ship is now in Kochi harbour. We are in touch with the Indian authorities and we shall work together to clarify all aspects of the incident.”
But the Directorate General of Shipping put out a statement giving a rather different version of events. It said Enrica Lexie was intercepted by the Indian coastguard and escorted into Kochi.
The directorate said it planned a preliminary investigation into “the loss of life of two innocent Indian fishermen”.