At May 16 meeting, Italy may make efforts to pass laws against Indian stand

Even as the authorities continue to grapple with the case of killing of two fishermen, allegedly by armed guards aboard Italy-flagged tanker Enrica Lexie off the coast of Kerala, India appears to be dragging its feet on the position it should take on the rights of armed guards of merchant ships.

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) elicited the views of 170 member-countries through a three-page questionnaire sent six months ago on certain issues that should be addressed in regard to the use of Privately Contracted Armed Security Personnel (PCASP) on board ships in the high-risk areas for protection against piracy.

Although the questionnaire was issued in September last year, India's response has not yet reached the London-based IMO that is scheduled to meet on May 16. The deadline for response was November 30, last year.

Public outcry

Defence Ministry sources told The Hindu that considering the public outcry over the Kochi incident, it was surprising that the Indian stand was not yet submitted.

One of the factors of concern is that at the May meeting, countries such as Italy could make efforts to pass laws that could well be against the position India takes, affecting both the Kochi case and also the general guidance issued by the Shipping Ministry on use of armed guards in the Exclusive Economic Zone. The issue was flagged for the authorities concerned to take note even as the Centre got entangled on Friday in the issue of jurisdiction in trying the two Italian marines for the shooting incident.

The questionnaire deals with a range of issues, including the kind of information member-countries want, and by when, about ships intending to enter or depart from its ports, anchorages of off-shore terminals; similar activity for the purpose of embarking or disembarking firearms and/or security-related equipment; and reporting of security-related incidents in territorial seas.

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