India today summoned Italy’s ambassador and lodged a strong protest over the murder of two fishermen in the firing by security guards of an Italian ship off the Kerala coast.
The security suspected them to be pirates. India has called the incident “serious and unfortunate”.
As the incident yesterday triggered a diplomatic row between India and Italy,Italian Ambassador Giacomo Sanfelice di Monteforte,who was summoned by the Ministry of External Affairs by Secretary (West) M Ganapathi,said his country’s Navy followed the international protocol.
Two fishermen in a boat including its driver were shot dead when guards onboard the merchant vessel ‘Enrica Lexie’ fired at their boat carrying 11 fishermen off Kollam coast,suspecting the group to be a band of pirates.
After the meeting in Delhi,the envoy said facts of the case were yet to be clarified.
“We are working in very close cooperation with Indian authorities. It is in any case a very sad incident. What I want to underline is that the Italian ship moved voluntarily into the Kochi port,” he told reporters.
Asked about the firing incident,the envoy said: “The Italian Navy followed the international protocol as it was approached by a vessel which did not stop when flash lights were sent.
The vessel was anchored off the Kochi coast and its crew is being questioned by the police in the ship itself.
Official sources said there were 11 fishermen in the boat at the time of the incident out of whom 9 were sleeping and the driver and another person who were awake were shot dead.
“There was no prior warning as reported by the crew,” the sources said,adding the matter was now being investigated by the Navy,Coast Guard and local police.
Reacting to the incident,Defence Minister A K Antony said: “It is very serious and unfortunate.”
He said investigations are on and law will take its own course in the matter.
Underlining that strict vigil is maintained by the authorities,he said,”Kerala police and Coast Guard officers are visiting the people concerned… We will keep a strict vigil and we want everything as per law.”
“At this stage,saying too much is not correct. But I can tell you that law will take its own course,” Antony said.
The bodies of the two dead fishermen–Ajesh Binki (25) and Jalastein (45)–were brought to Kollam last night by Coast Guard and Marine Enforcement authorities.
The bodies were being sent for post-mortem to the Medical College Hospital in Thiruvananthapuram after completion of the initial legal formalities,Kollam police said.
The preliminary assessment of the marine authorities is that armed guards aboard the ship might have fired at the fishing boat mistaking it for a vessel of pirates,official sources in Kollam said.
Senior police officials from the Mattancherry,Fort Kochi police stations along with Coastguard officials went in a Coastguard vessel to the Italian ship.
Coastguard sources said the Italian Consul General is expected to reach Kochi this evening.
In the aftermath of the firing incident,the Coast Guard had launched two ships ‘Sumar’ and ‘Lakshmi Bai’ and an aircraft to trace the ship,located it and asked it to anchor off Kochi for a detailed investigation.
Meanwhile,the Kerala government announced a solatium of Rs 5 lakh for the families of the deceased fishermen who belonged to Colachal area in Kanyakumari district in neighbouring Tamil Nadu but had settled in Kerala for the last several years.
The district administration announced an emergency relief payment of Rs 10,000 each for the kin of the killed.
The fishermen had set sail two days ago from Neendakara in Kollam district.