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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Indian Ocean Mistake: Armed Guards on Italian Cargo Ship Shoot at Fishermen, Kill 2

Worst case scenario for armed guards on merchant ship, reported as Italian ship fires on fishing boat mistaking it for pirate vessel, killing 2 Indian fishermen:
An Italian cargo ship fired at an Indian fishing boat that it mistook for a pirate vessel, killing two fishermen, India’s navy said Thursday.

The ship identified as the Enrica Lexie fired at the fishermen in waters off India’s southern Kerala state on Wednesday, a navy statement said.

The Indian coast guard and navy vessels escorted the Italian ship to the nearby port city of Kochi and were questioning the captain and crew.

The owner of the fishing vessel, who goes by the single name Freddy, said Thursday the firing was unprovoked. The boat was fishing when the ship opened fire, killing the two fishermen instantly, he said.
The incident reportedly occurred 40 miles off the Indian coast.

More from here:
India on Thursday summoned the Italian envoy and voiced concern over the killing of two fishermen by security officials of the Italian cargo vessel and underlined that the captain of the ship should cooperate with local authorities.

M Ganapathi, secretary (west) in the external affairs ministry, met Italian ambassador Giacomo Sanfelice di Montefort and told him that the captain has to cooperate with Indian officials probing the incident.

The captain of Enrica Lexie, who has been ordered to anchor near a local port, told officials the fishermen were mistaken for pirates after they sailed close to the tanker in a motorised boat, navy spokesman Roy Francis said.

"The security wing fired at the fishermen and the captain has alerted the coast guard about the firing. We are making a detailed investigation," the naval spokesman said.
Freddie Louis, who owns the Indian fishing vessel, said gunmen on board the tanker fired at the boat "without provocation," killing the two unarmed men aged 50 and 21.

The boat with 11 men had sailed out to trawl for tuna fish on February 7.

"We were returning after the fishing and all of us were were sleeping except Valentine and Pinki," Louis told AFP, identifying the victims by their first names.
One report has the armed guards as being "Italian navy personnel."
Enrica Lexie
© Nathan
This type of event has been much discussed in concerns over placing armed security teams on merchant ships, with liability and control over the guards being major issues.

UPDATE: An interesting legal question arises about what law will apply to this shooting and that may turn on the location ship when the shooting occurred. Did this incident occur in Indian waters or on the "high seas?"

UPDATE2 (19 Feb 12): Italian guards now in Indian custody as reported here. India has has custody of the guards, the Italian government asserts that a trial, if any, should occur in Italy:
The Italian government maintains the case should be handled by its own judicial authorities “since the deeds happened in international waters on an Italian-flagged ship,” the statement said. The Italians contend that the presence of military personnel aboard the cargo ship is governed by an Italian law conforming to U.N. anti-piracy resolutions, and that such personnel are part of the Italian state and thus immune to the jurisdiction of foreign states.
The law on this is unclear - and this aspect of the matter properly is now less a legal issue than a diplomatic one.


  1. That was a military protection unit on board the vessel from the San Marco Battalion, and not a private security company as reported in the news paper in Italy.

  2. San Marco Regiment are the Italian Marines

  3. Anonymous11:38 AM

    It is clear that when arrogance AND negligence are factors in decision making costly errors will continue.

    Publish the names and photos of the guilty incompetants and reveal them to be the individuals that they are.

    1. "arrogance AND negligence"

      Pretty quick with the accusations.

    2. Anonymous1:10 PM

      not as quick as those who pulled trigger

  4. Does the 200 mile economic zone have a bearing on jurisdiction.

    1. India as a coastal nation has control of fishing and any mining within its exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles/370.4 km but ask the lawyers dealing with this and those trained in International law concerning unprovoked shooting and killing of Indian citizens at that 40 mile or 64.4 km location where that incident occurred.
      Well it was clearly careless and negligent to simply shoot at the fishermen without asking for the vessel occupants and captain to properly identify themselves and yes, arrogant of the Italian Captain and guards to think they were pirates in that fishing vessel. Did they wave weapons/guns, or appear hostile to warrant opening fire to kill, let alone fire warning shots?
      This really is inexcusable because the area has numerous fishing vessels around that travel back and forth as the inhabitants fish for a living. Pirate vessels are visibly armed and characteristic and a photo file must be published for all to be able to identify pirates in these waters. The U.S. navy has some as they have encountered such in the past. As the Italian merchant vessel was looking for pirates it made a costly mistake in its protocol to identify the occupants and instead shot and killed unarmed fishermen before confirming who they were and what their business was. This is clearly an error on the Italian guards who overreacted even with no warning shots to "scare any pirates into shooting back". No it's pretty clear from the news report at least. Poor fishermen returning from 9 days out at sea to their waiting families; likely something they do regularly and always return to their wives and families. Enough said by me--Very disappointing events to read I am sure you all agree.

  5. Anon sure is quick to blame the shooters. I on the other hand think it's quite clearly the fault of the fishermen. While travelling in pirate infested waters where armed merchant ships are known to travel, they decide to get so close to a cargo ship they are within small arms range, never mind without radio contact? Puh-leeze. Incompetent fishing captain, not shooters.

    1. Anonymous1:09 PM

      Quick to judge the dead? As an excuse to ignore a few inconveniences - the waters are far from Somalia, within Indian coast, no contact/clarity sought, fleeing the waters after the shooting..

    2. It is unwise to expect poor fishermen to have sophisticated radio so it /was up to the Italian Enrica Lexie Captain and Guard to have protocols to properly qualify occupants of vessels and to effectively determine whether hostile or not and to do so with loudspeaker and warning shots if necessary--warning shots that are not meant to kill, rather to get any hostiles to make the first move.

    3. cris - I dont know what your international sailing experience is ,but not just around the indian coast but world wide (including europe and the americas )fishing vessels routinely pass very close to Merchant Vessels . I personally dont like it but its the real world and one learns to deal with it . Its the equvalent of inconsiderate drivers , just because a few carjacking cases are reported doesnt give me the right to shoot any one who cuts me off . Also please note the fishing boats in this area are mostly open wooden or fibreglass boats abt 12-18 feet long , not the proper fishing trawlers.
      Also as anon has pointed out this area has not had any recent piracy incident and is quite heavily patroled .

  6. Anonymous12:34 PM


  7. Anonymous4:44 PM

    Were there warning shots fired?

  8. The Italian Government or any countries government must be held responsible for the actions of its patrol boats, merchant vessels and any water craft that act to police such waters whether off India or Africa. If or when pirates are encountered and confirmed, then they may be disabled accordingly and with force if necessary. Set measures to identify such vessels and occupants are very necessary as many Indian fishermen regularly set off for days to fish for food for their families.

  9. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  10. mandb4:23 AM

    It was inevitable that something like this was going to happen eventually. All the more extraordinary it occurred in a relatively low threat area off the Indian coast and with trained military on-board. The latter point being the most poignant observation.
    The subsequent enquiry, if not courts martial, will be most interesting to follow. In almost all cases warning shots are sufficient to ward off pirates, but in this case they were not and saw no reason to alter course as innocent parties. Why then were they shot? Surely the armed guards had binoculars and could make a rapid threat assessment as to whether they (the fisherman) were armed or not?
    This also raises the interesting point that this incident was reported and is being investigated - what of those that have gone unreported? Although I have little sympathy for actual pirates caught in similar circumstances.

  11. Gary Stringer6:32 AM

    I can't help but feel that the severity of piracy in these waters has led to mass paranoia and this may have caused them to open fire on a unarmed fishing boat

  12. Gary Stringer11:20 AM

    Looks like the guards who shot them could be prosecuted very soon

  13. I am a Tanker Capt and for the last 8 years have been on the PG far east Trade . The area in question off the kerela coast has a lot of fishing vessels , which often pass close to large commercial vessels and are so busy with their fishing related activities that the do not follow the steering rules. While this is often annoying and inconvinent for large vessels, it is not a excuse for shooting at people . If vessels under my command had followed the same rules as the Lexie we would now have been guilty of a few hundred deaths. It sounds to my mind that the guards were not familar with the area and normal fishing vessel behaviour i wonder if the Master of the Tanker was in the loop when the order to fire was given .
    This has all the makings of a international Incident , the incident has taken place just outside indian waters but in the EEZ so the flag state should have jurisdiction however as 2 indian nationals have been killed india will assert jurisdiction . It is also the most convinent forum . Having seen the italian govt statements it is quite clear that a fair trial cannot be held in Italy as without any investigation they have already exonerated the Guards .
    Being a fellow Mariner and Tanker Capt who has been attacked by Pirates twice normally my sympathies would e with the Ship however in this instance it appears that a tragic mistake as been committed .If this leads to some action on the Piracy front some good may come of it Yet . This was something just waiting to happen , on at least 2 occasions i have personnaly heard radio messages reporting pirate attack which later turned out to be False alarms .

  14. Gary Stringer11:41 AM

    Good points, if they were inexperienced in these waters then it is likely that they panicked and attacked without captain's orders. In all the time that you've been out there have you ever had any problems with pirates Jesse??

    1. Gary -I have sailed world wide and as mentioned have had 2 brushes with pirates one off indonesia and once off oman . Both time we avoided boarding due to early detection and evasive maneuvering .The problem is very real and serious . As a result people are jumpy and scared.
      I feel the fact that the security detail was Italian army not private probally contributed to the firing . I think its no secret that service personnel dont take kindly to taking orders from civilians . The security detail was probally 4/5 privates headed by a seargent if i know how these things work. ( Army Family) . Members of the San marco Battalion are no doubt well trained but likely young and gung ho .
      That coupled with not knowing the waters and normal behaviour of fishing boats is what lead to this tragic accident . Now the Italian Govt is in the unenviably position of trying to defend their young soilders. They are lucky those killed were indian not Chinese or Korean or heaven forbid American , In either of the cases i can assure you
      the Capt and crew would have been behind bars without benefit of any credible legal
      process .

    2. Anonymous2:25 AM


      If you think that they are really lucky killing an Indian,they are not. India have resilient govt policies and rules and they donot act with out head like Chinese or Korea putting someone behind the bars without giving the latter an opportunity to explain.India does things according to the nation's legal framework.

      Last but the least, Italian marines are already on their way to the Jail and will remain their for years till the case is settled.

    3. Gary Stringer6:26 AM

      Wow must have been a couple of close calls, but early detection is definitely key to evading an attack. I think you're right about all those factors contributing to how the security acted and the government definitely have an unenviable task now in defending their soliders!

  15. Anonymous3:05 AM

    I ernestly beleive that Italian marines were drunk and trigger happy. This incidence happned just off the coast of kochi which has a large Indian navel base. Indian navy is quit proactive in patrolling against pirates and this area is quite far off from pirate zone. Coast guard halicopters intercepted the ship and brought it to harbor.
    Its quite likely that these marines will now rot in jail for nearly a decade as undertrials. Serves them right.

    1. "Drunk?"

      Where did that accusation come from?

    2. As anon said two out of 6 marine aboard the ship were trigger happy and fired at will at a fishing trawler which was pretty far away from the Enrica Lexie Vessel.

      Regardless,thoughtless actions of two marines have definitely spoilt the diplomatic relations between Italy and India. India sumoned Italian ambassador for an explanation to this action. Italy's Foregin Affairs minister would be now visiting India on June 28th . Italian Marine Admirals and other high level diplomats are already in India holding discussions with Indian Ministry of Affairs.

      The latest update for this issue:

      Indian Police have acquired the control of the Vessel. Captain and crew members are detained and questioned now. It is certain now that two navy marines responsbile for this action will be arrested by today evening and subject to the punishments as per Indian courts.

      May be these blockhead marines thought that they could open fire ad get off from the Indian coast? They will now learn what price they had to pay for their inhumane action.It appears from the national media channels that Indian Ministry of Affairs have plainly dismissed all explanations and claims and have instructed Police to proceed as per country law and regulations.

    3. Gary Stringer7:34 AM

      Were they actually drunk, I can't see anything about them being drunk on any report??

  16. Anonymous9:05 AM

    There are several discrepancies in the claims made by the captain of the Enrica Lexie that the investigators have drawn attention to and the Coast Guard has effectively refuted:
    The captain of the Enrica has claimed that the ship switched on its search lights when they saw the boat approaching them. However, Coast Guard officials asked him if search lights were of any use in daylight?

    The captain claimed that the boat was approaching at a very high speed. However, the Coast Guard says that fishing boats are not capable of moving at a speed of more than 6-8 nautical miles.

    The captain also claimed that the ship crew fired warning shots when they saw the boat approaching. However, the Coast Guard asked if the boat was hit by 20 bullets, 3 bullets hitting one fisherman, and 4 another, then could they be called warning shots? Warning shots are fired in air, not at any object.

    The captain further claimed that Enrica had voluntarily moved to Kochi in a bid to surrender. The Coast Guard however, refuted his argument saying the ship was actually fleeing toward Egypt and had been asked by them to return.

  17. Anonymous10:59 AM

    This is really man hunting of drunken italian marines .Who giving licence for killing poor people.Really poor fishermen .They are using about 30-50 feet small wooden boats.They have no guns or swords, only kitchen knives for making food .Indian coast is pirate free. Somalian coast is more than 2700 km away from south indian coast.Many times fishermen attacked from ships

  18. Gary Stringer9:02 AM

    Why do I keep seeing people saying they were drunk?? Has this been confirmed or just rumour?

  19. Anonymous11:12 AM

    This incident happened 4:30 pm have very good daylight. This boat have 75 percent open deck body and a speed of only 8 nautical mile per hour using low power diesel engine.After the incident the boat owner freddy send information to another boat through wireless because no mobile range.The second boat informed to coastel police through mobile phone.The photo of the boat named ''St Antony'' can see many internet sites, after compare with pirate vessels

  20. Anonymous11:51 AM

    When there is an accident on the road and a human injury is involved what does the vehicle driver do. He calls for emergency services and offers whatever firs aid he is capable of in the mean time.

    What did the Italian ship and Master do, they fled the scene
    if u stick around and take the consequences like an adult , Justice usually takes that into account
    if you flee the scene, and do not report it usually means your intentions are not honourable and if/when caught justice takes that into account too.

  21. While these incidents are sad and well there has to be some legal recourse for the victims, I think the whole episode has been blown out of proportion by the fact these were "Europeans" who killed Indians so close to Indian waters. It's invokes an ugly past for Indians.

    I think it is important to recall an incident a few years back when an Indian Navy frigate blew up a fishing trawler - crew and all after they challenged a fishing trawler to stop on suspected piracy and the pirates on board responded with gunfire. Sadly, in that incident many thai fishermen were also killed as they were being held prisoner below deck.

    So the Indian media and politicians need to cut the Italians some slack. Probably slap a hefty fine and let them go because this is an unfortunate accident - not a act of malice.

    1. How does 10-15 hard labour sound ? No malice intended..

      The first thing the west has to learn when dealing with India is that humility and contrition goes a long way here. Indian law is not just coldly logical, but also social. If the italians had quietly turned themselves in, explained they panicked and made a mistake, offered a good compensation to the family without being asked and agreed to fully co-operate, everyone would have said 'sad mistake', prosecuted these guys for involuntary manslaughter, and gotten off on parole in an year or so. But the Italians tried to do the full court press, even pulled in Rome to appeal to 'catholic ministers' in kerala. Now everyone and his father is up in arms in India and these marines are looking at a life time in an indian jail.

    2. Justice ought to be "just", not a circus or an attempt at exacting - "revenge" or "appeasing" a mob! You are essentially saying that India has mob justice ?

      You say 10-15 hard labor ? I seriously doubt that is going to happen even now with all the commotion. They are still fighting out who has jurisdiction to try these soldiers. Plus, you have appeals and so on. No way they are going to get a "life sentence" for what is essentially involuntary manslaughter in the 2nd degree, at best they look at 5-6 years.

      But I doubt even that would be applicable considering that the ship was Italian and the waters they were in were international waters!

    3. Mazo,
      What about justice to the 2 poor fishermen who are dead and their family. Are is your justice only applicable for the white Italians? The crime happened in a Indian vessel (fishermen's boat where the fishermen were killed). If it were international waters, why were the Italians running full steam towards Egypt. The Italians also behaved extremely arrogant and didn't even apologize to the family. They also lied that the fishermen shot at them. Basically, they have lost the trust of Indians now. No one is going to accept their version as truth anymore as they are not trust worthy. Justice must be served and they should be punished to the full extent of the law. If someone has to ensure that the relationship does not get spoiled, then the onus is on the Italians to accept that they lied, apologize for both the incident and the lies and make amends. If they don't do it then certainly the relationship will get spoiled. Indian government has housed the criminals in a 3 star hotel and feeding them all kinds of Italian delicacies, instead of hard prison like the rest of the criminals. It has allowed them consular access. Italians are behaving in a thankless way. I am not sure what will happen at the Government level. But it is living a very bad taste in our (Indians) mouth. Bad Karma will come back to bite.

  22. John M10:11 AM

    >>I think it is important to recall an incident a few years back when an Indian Navy frigate blew up a fishing trawler - crew and all after they challenged a fishing trawler to stop on suspected piracy and the pirates on board responded with gunfire. Sadly, in that incident many thai fishermen were also killed as they were being held prisoner below deck.

    What rubbish. There were 16 kidnapped thai sailors in that pirate ship, of whom 15 were rescued and are alive. Tell your fake stories to children.

    >>So the Indian media and politicians need to cut the Italians some slack.

    Slack for murderers, why? Do you honor murderers in your nation?

    >>Probably slap a hefty fine and let them go because this is an unfortunate accident - not a act of malice.

    We dont have sharia and blood money laws here. Those arrested will be tried for murder and handed down suitable punishment by the courts.

    1. Anonymous6:59 PM

      Sorry John, the incident with Thai fishing trawler is true. However on couple of other occasions Indian Navy rescued Thai fishermen and captured pirates (61 pirates on one incident), may be the world like to remember the first incident only... who knows!