Monday, February 20, 2012

Update: Indian Police Arrest Italian Security Team Assigned to Protect Merchant Vessels

As a follow-up to yesterday's posting, the Italian foreign ministry has taken the position that Italy should be allowed to deal with allegations that a security team assigned aboard an Italian commercial vessel, who shot and killed two unarmed Indian fisherman on Wednesday (February 15).

To make matters worse, the Italian foreign ministry said earlier today (February 20) that Indian police should not have arrested the two servicemen, who are Italian Marines. The two were part of a security detachment assigned to protect the merchant vessel, Enrica Lexie, from attacks in the Indian Ocean.

The two marines, Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, were arrested in the coastal town of Kochi and remain in custody.

COMMENT: As I mentioned in yesterday's posting, it might have been better if the Italian foreign ministry had been more transparent with the Indian government and apprised them of the fact that they had been assigning armed military personnel to commercial vessels for several months.

Doing so could also have enabled both governments to amicably work out rules of engagement which could have prevented the deaths of innocent civilians.

Although assigning armed guards aboard commercial vessels may be authorized under Italian law, the fact remains that two unarmed fisherman have been shot and killed, although they were in international waters at the time of the shooting.

Although a diplomatic team from Rome arrived in New Delhi on Sunday in the hope of working through the bi-lateral crisis, as today ends, apparently no agreement was reached between the two nations, which obviously is straining relations.

Unfortunately, the captain of the "Enrica Lexie," Umberto Vitelli, sent a report to the ships owners and Italian officials, but made no reference that two Indian fisherman were killed.

Although no doubt more facts will emerge from what is quickly becoming an international incident, one can only hope that the Italian Marines were equipped with tactical optics which should have told them whether approaching vessels were armed or not.

Regardless, Vitelli should have authorized target acquisition ONLY after confirming that there was a lethal, imminent threat that jeopardized the "Enrica Lexie."

In any event, there seem to major differences in the establishment of facts between the two countries, as the captain of the "Enrica Lexie" said that warning shots were fired to deter nearby vessels, yet the fact remains that two unarmed civilians were shot and killed.

Nevertheless, India may well find an uphill battle in attempting to prosecute two Italian Marines who presumably were acting under orders of their superiors in international waters.

It would be wise for Italy to offer equitable compensation to the families of the Indian fisherman killed, as well as an apology from the Italian government, and for India to transfer custody of the two Marines to Italy with the assertion that they will be disciplined appropriately if they operated outside of their authority.

Otherwise, this incident could dramatically disrupt Italian-Indian affairs.

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