The EU needs to send a “strong message” to India as the trial of two Italian marines for the killing of two Indian fishermen has “huge implications” for Europe’s fight against piracy, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has said.
The case of the marines has “huge implications for Italy but also for all countries engaged in anti-piracy” measures, Ashton said after a meeting with 28 EU foreign ministers on Monday.
The European Union “needs to send a strong message” to New Delhi because measures to combat piracy and even terrorism taken by countries in Europe may be at stake in the case, she was quoted as saying to EU ministers by Italian news agency ANSA.
ANSA, quoting its sources, reported that Ashton told the foreign ministers that India’s application of an anti-terror law to the case was “unacceptable”.
Her comments came on the same day Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta warned the country and the EU would “react” to India’s “unacceptable” move to invoke the anti-piracy law against the marines.
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“The charge sought by Indian authorities is unacceptable,” Prime Minister Enrico Letta said in a message on his Twitter handle. “Italy and the European Union will react.”
Both the leaders reacted after Indian authorities said the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which is probing the matter, would prosecute marines Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone under the strict maritime security law SUA. The SUA carries death penalty.
India last week removed the possibility of a death penalty but insisted that the marines would still be prosecuted under the anti-piracy law. Now, they face up to 10 years in jail.
On Monday, India’s Supreme Court set February 18 as the next date for hearing arguments from both the sides on the use of the anti-piracy law.
Italy had approached the apex court on January 15 amid fears that the NIA intends to prosecute the marines under the anti-terror Suppression of Unlawful Acts against Safety of Maritime Navigation And Fixed Platforms on Continental Shelf Act (SUA).
The marines shot dead two fishermen off the Kerala coast in February 2012, sparking diplomatic tensions between India and Italy.
The marines, deployed on the Italian-flagged oil tanker MT Enrica Lexie, said they mistook the fishermen for pirates. They are now staying in the Italian Embassy in New Delhi awaiting trial.
Rome wants the marines to be tried in Italy, claiming the incident took place in international waters. However, New Delhi says it has the right to try the Italians as the victims were Indians on board an Indian fishing boat.