It was a mistake; they were genuine fishermen, conceded Italian Deputy Foreign Minister Staffan de Mistura, in town for parleys with the State administration to secure the release of the two Italian marines arrested on charges of killing two Indian fishermen off the Kerala coast last week.

The shooting, he said, was a mistake. But the fact that the region had witnessed an upsurge in piracy over the last couple of years perhaps caused the marines to mistake the genuine fishermen for pirates, he said, as The Hindu team caught up with him on Thursday.

When it was cited that there was a marked decline in piracy in the Eastern Arabian Sea and the Indian side of the Indian Ocean after the Indian Navy and the Coast Guard intensified patrolling the seas of its domain of interest, Mr. de Mistura admitted that it was true.

The incident was without precedent for either India or Italy, who always maintained friendly relations. Italy, on its part, did not want to burn its bridges with India over the unfortunate occurrence.

He termed the issue “all the more sensitive” as it involved men in uniform. “India also has its military personnel deployed all over the world” on various duties, he said.

A top official of the Italian Foreign Ministry said the course of action would be decided after the outcome of the court proceedings under way in Kerala. Italy had launched a parallel investigation of the incident by its agencies back home. However, now that an Indian judge was hearing the case, we would await its outcome, the official maintained.

Earlier in the day, Mr. de Mistura met the arrested marines Latorre Massimiliano and Salvatore Girone, held at the CISF guesthouse on Willingdon Island, and expressed satisfaction over the way the Kerala Police treated them.

Italian Ambassador Giacomo Sanfelice di Monteforte and Consul-General Giampaolo Cutillo accompanied the Minister.

Reiterating the Italian stance that the fishing boat that came under attack was in international waters, Mr. de Mistura told the media that the incident occurred 22.5 nautical miles off the coast of India.

He called for Indo-Italian joint ballistic examination and inspection of the weapons on board Enrica Lexie, the oil tanker involved in the firing.

Mr. de Mistura is staying back in the State pending a decision by the Kerala High Court on a writ petition filed by Italy to quash the FIR accusing the marines of murder. Foreign Affairs Minister Franco Frattini is slated to arrive in India on Tuesday to continue negotiations to thrash out an amicable solution to the issue.

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