Friday, October 22, 2021

SC to Order Closure of Case Against Italian Marines in India for Killing 2 Kerala Fishermen

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The Supreme Court Friday said it would pass orders on June 15 on closure of proceedings in India against two Italian marines, accused of killing two fishermen off the Kerala coast in February 2012, and the disbursal of Rs 10 crore compensation to the heirs of the victims. Referring to the international arbitral award and the terms of the agreement among India, Italy and the Kerala government, a vacation bench comprising justices Indira Banerjee and M R Shah said the case against marines Massimilano Latorre and Salvatore Girone for the offences would be now pursued by Italy there.

As per the scheme on disbursal of compensation, the top court was informed by the Kerala government that Rs 4 core each would be given to the heirs of two deceased fishermen and the rest Rs 2 core would be paid to the owner of the fishing vessel St. Antony on which the two were shot dead. Keeping the plea of the Centre seeking closure of the case here pending for orders on Tuesday, the bench said it was of the view that the compensation money be transferred to the Kerala high court for disbursal and ensuring that the amount does not fritter away.

In February 2012, India had accused the two marines on board the MV Enrica Lexie — an Italian flagged oil tanker — of killing two Indian fishermen who were on a fishing vessel in India’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). At the outset, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, told the bench that Republic of Italy has deposited Rs 10 crore with it over and above the ex-gratia paid earlier and the same has been deposited by the Union Ministry of External Affairs with the apex court’s registry as directed.

There was an award by International Tribunal, which we as a Nation have accepted. The agreement is among Republic of Italy, India and the Kerala government, the law officer said, adding, Now, the question of apportionment of the compensation amount remains and it can be left to the Kerala Government. The dispute before the international tribunal was as to which country, Italy or India, has the jurisdiction to prosecute the marines and it was decided that both the nations have the concurrent jurisdiction, Mehta said. But based on facts it was decided that India would not pursue the criminal case and proceedings would be started in Italy, he added.

Senior Advocate Sohail Dutta, appearing for Italy, urged the bench to pass an order to quash the criminal proceedings pending against the marines as per the award of the International Tribunal. Earlier, the Centre had told the court that Italy had initiated the transfer of Rs 10 crore and as soon as the money is received, the government will deposit it with the apex court as per the April 9 direction.

The Centre had earlier told the top court that Italy has assured the Indian government that it would prosecute the marines there as per law and that maximum compensation will be ensured to the victims’ family members. The Centre had referred to the last year’s ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague which held that India was entitled to get compensation in the case but can’t prosecute the marines due to official immunity enjoyed by them.

It had said the arbitration under United Nation Convention on the Law of Sea (UNCLOS), which was instituted on a request from Italy, has delivered its Award on May 21, 2020. Latorre, who had suffered a brain stroke on August 31, 2014, was first granted bail and allowed by the apex court on September 12, 2014 to go to Italy for four months and after that, extensions have been granted to him.

In Italy, Latorre underwent a heart surgery after which the top court granted him extension of his stay in his native country. On September 28, 2016, the apex court had allowed Latorre to remain in his country till the international arbitral tribunal decided the jurisdictional issue.

On May 26, 2016, Girone was also granted bail with certain conditions and allowed by the top court to go to his country till the jurisdictional issue was decided. The complaint against the marines was lodged by Freddy, the owner of fishing boat ‘St Antony’ in which two Kerala fishermen were killed when marines opened fire on them allegedly under the misconception that they were pirates.

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