Italian ship authorities to hand over 2 marines

Kochi/New Delhi, Feb 18: The authorities of the Italian oiltanker tonight agreed to hand over by Sunday, Feb 19 morning two of the marines onboard the vessel who allegedly shot dead two Indian fishermen on February 15 off Kollam coast.

Kochi Police Commissioner M R Ajith Kumar visited the ship late tonight--his second in the day--and spoke to the Captain and crew of the ship for half an hour.

He told reporters on his return here that the vessel authorities have agreed to turn over two of its marines to the police by 8am deadline tomorrow.

A case of murder was registered by Kollam police two days ago in connection with the incident and the two marines, on their surrender, would be questioned first before further action is taken, police sources said.

The ship authorities agreed to hand over the marine duo after a team of Kerala police led by Ajith Kumar turned on the heat on the vessel's Captain and the crew by asking them to hand over the duo by 8am tomorrow or face police action.

Ajit Kumar had earlier in the day gone to the ship to seek the cooperation of the crew and had held discussions with the Italian Consul General and the Captain.

The two fishermen -- Ajesh Binki (25) and Jalastein (45) -- were killed on February 15 off Kollam coast near Kerala when armed guards of the ship fired at their boat, suspecting it to be a vessel belonging to pirates.

The late night developments came shortly after India did some tough talking on the need for the Italian ship authorities to cooperate with the probe into the killing of the fishermen. Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi today called his Indian counterpart S M Krishna who told him that the captain the Italian oil tanker must cooperate with Indian law enforcers. 

During the telephonic talk, Krishna told Terzi that the people onboard the ship 'Enrica Lexie', particularly the Captain of the ship and the two personnel involved in the shooting, should fully cooperate with Indian investigating authorities and law should be allowed to take its course.

His remarks came in the backdrop of reports that the Italian ship authorities refused to hand over the personnel involved in the shooting to Indian law enforcers.

Krishna, according to a statement by the External Affairs Ministry, said the loss of lives could have been avoided had the naval personnel on board "Enrica Lexie" been careful and exercised restraint.

He told his Italian counterpart that "our information clearly indicated that the Indian fishermen were not
carrying any arms or ammunition on board their vessel.

Indian fishing vessels do not carry these on board but only fishing nets and the fish they catch".

Krishna told the Italian Foreign Minister of his telephonic conversation with Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy who conveyed "the strong public opinion and agitation in Kerala" at the loss of the innocent lives and the need for an urgent resolution of this issue.

Chandy described the killing of the fishermen in firing by an Italian ship as "cold-blooded murder" and said in Kochi that stringent legal measurers would be taken against the crew of the vessel responsible for the shooting.

Shipping Minister G K Vasan said in Chennai it was internationally well-known that when there is a piracy attack, certain protocol should be followed.

"It was not followed here". He said there was a suspicion as to why the Italian ship did not report the incident on time.


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