International tribunal upholds conduct of Indian authorities in Italian tanker Enrica Lexie case

    03-Jul-2020   
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Two Italian marines aboard the Italian-flagged commercial oil tanker MV Enrica Lexie are accused of killing two Indian fishermen off the coast of Kerala on Feb 15, 2012.
 
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New Delhi: In a major development related to diplomatic-legal battle, the Arbitral Tribunal constituted under Annex VII of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) has upheld the conduct of the Indian authorities with respect to the Italian tanker Enrica Lexie case. MEA spokesman Anurag Srivastava told reporters here on Thursday that the court "held that the actions of the Italian military officers and, consequently, Italy breached India’s freedom of navigation under UNCLOS Article 87(1)(a) and 90".
 
"The Tribunal observed that India and Italy had concurrent jurisdiction over the incident and a valid legal basis to institute criminal proceedings against the Marines. The Tribunal rejected Italy’s claim to compensation for the detention of the Marines," he said.
 
The case blew up into a major political issue in Italy and also had caused the resignation of Italian Foreign Affairs Minister Giulio Terzi. The high profile case relates to a major row about a shooting that happened off the western coast of India on Feb 15, 2012. As reported widely, two Indian fishermen were killed off the coast of Kerala aboard the St. Antony.
 
India had alleged that the two Italian marines aboard the Italian-flagged commercial oil tanker MV Enrica Lexie killed the fishermen. Shortly after the incident, the Indian Navy had intercepted the MV Enrica Lexie and detained the two Italian marines. The developments sparked a conflict of opinions over legal jurisdiction and functional immunity between the governments of India and Italy.
 
On June 26, 2015 on the request of Italy in respect of a dispute concerning the incident the Tribunal was set up. The Tribunal observed that India and Italy had concurrent jurisdiction over the incident and a valid legal basis to institute criminal proceedings against the Marines. "The Tribunal rejected Italy’s claim to compensation for the detention of the Marines. However, it found that the immunities enjoyed by the Marines as State officials operate as an exception to the jurisdiction of the Indian courts and, hence, preclude them to judge the Marines," the MEA spokesman said.
 
The Tribunal took note of the commitment expressed by Italy to resume its criminal investigation into the events of 15 February 2012. "The Tribunal decided that India is entitled to payment of compensation in connection with loss of life, physical harm, material damage to property and moral harm suffered by the captain and other crew members of “St. Antony"," he said.
 
The Tribunal also held that the Parties are invited to consult with each other with a view to reaching agreement on the amount of compensation due to India.
 
"The Tribunal also decided that it shall retain jurisdiction should either Party or both Parties wish to apply for a ruling from the Arbitral Tribunal in respect of the quantification of compensation due to India."
 
Srivastava said: "India has taken note of the Award and will be in touch with relevant entities on the matter".
 
On the background front, it can be stated that during the Congress-led UPA regime, the two marines were allowed to return to Italy in early 2013 on a temporary leave. However, once the marines landed in Italy, the authorities in that country notified India they would not return the marines unless there was a guarantee they would not face the death penalty. India responded by summoning the Italian ambassador to Delhi for negotiations.
 
After tense diplomatic discussions, the two marines were finally returned, without any of the guarantees requested by Italy.
 
On April 4, 2013, the Indian National Investigation Agency (NIA) had filed a first information report against the two Italian marines in relation to charges including murder, attempted murder, mischief and conspiracy.