An Italian diplomat (centre) walks up with the two Marines who were taken into custody in Kochi on Sunday. (AFP)
Thiruvananthapuram, Feb. 19: Kerala police, armed with the Centres go-ahead, today took into custody two Italian Marines suspected to have shot dead two Indian fishermen at sea on February 15.
A team led by Kochi commissioner of police M.R. Ajith Kumar brought the duo, identified as Latorre Massimiliano and Salvatore Girone, ashore around 4pm. They were taken to a CISF guesthouse for interrogation.
A murder case had been registered against the Marines who were on board an oil tanker called Enrica Lexie on February 15 when they allegedly shot the two fishermen, having mistaken them for pirates.
The two who died — Jelestine, 45, and Ajesh Binki, 25 — were among 11 fishermen in a wooden boat off the Kollam coast in Kerala.
Kerala police got custody of the Marines after three days of diplomatic negotiations, with the Italians insisting that the fishing boat and the oil tanker were in international waters when the firing happened and the surviving fishermen and local authorities saying the vessels were in Indian territorial waters.
Massimiliano and Girone will be produced tomorrow before a court in Kollam district where the FIR has been registered.
Late last night, Kochi police had said Italian authorities had agreed to turn in the suspects by 8am. Accordingly, the police team reached the vessel early this morning but uncertainty over the handover extended into the afternoon.
Asked why Marines were guarding a private oil tanker, V.J. Mathew, the ship owners counsel, said Italian law allowed private vessels to do this.
However, the terms of the contract made it clear that the personnel will not be under the command of the owner or the captain, thereby absolving the ship authorities of any responsibility for the actions of the Marines, Mathew added.
The Italian ship was sailing from Singapore to Egypt with a crew of 19 Indians. It had six Italian armed guards on board.
In New Delhi, an Italian delegation today met senior foreign ministry officials and discussed the killing of the Indian fishermen. Both sides accepted that no armed personnel could fire at unarmed fishermen.
In the absence of any legal treaties to discuss such issues, both sides decided to carry on with their own investigations.
The six-member Italian delegation had members of its foreign, legal and defence ministries and two from the Italian mission in Delhi, including ambassador Giacomo Sanfelice di Monteforte.
Four of the Italian officials had flown to New Delhi this morning to meet the Indian officials — the secretary (west) in the foreign ministry, a senior home official and the resident commissioner of Kerala in New Delhi, U.K.S. Chauhan.
We had a fairly comprehensive discussion whereby we explained to them the rationale of our position and the situation as it exists today, foreign ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said.
We have also explained to them that as good partners and as external affairs minister S.M. Krishna had requested yesterday, we hope Italy will co-operate with us in ensuring that the law of the land takes its course. We also requested them to fully cooperate with Kerala police, he said.
Monteforte said the meeting was successful.