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A year on, no end in sight to victims’ misery

Ignatius Pereira
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I will testify wherever the trial of the Enrica Lexie case is: boat owner

Freddy in front of his fishing boat which was fired at by security personnel on board an Italian ship.— Photo: C. Suresh Kumar
Freddy in front of his fishing boat which was fired at by security personnel on board an Italian ship.— Photo: C. Suresh Kumar

Friday marked the first anniversary of the sensational Enrica Lexie shootout at the Arabian Sea off the Kerala coast in which two Indian fishermen were killed when marines on board the Italian flagged ship Enrica Lexie opened fire “mistaking” the fishermen on a mechanised fishing vessel to be pirates.

There were violent protests following the killings, and the outbursts of anger against the threat posed by ships on the lives and livelihood of fishermen along the Kerala waters raged for several weeks. But the first anniversary of the Enrcia Lexie shooting largely went unnoticed in the State, even in Kollam.

It was at about 4.30 p.m. on February 15 last year that the Italian marines, who were on security duty to protect the ship from pirate attacks, opened fire at the fishing vessel, ‘St. Antony.’ Valentine aka Jelestine, who was steering the boat, and Binish Pinky, who kept watch at the brow, were fatally hit by the bullets.

Nine others, including the boat owner, J. Freddy, were on board fast asleep and they escaped unhurt. The ship was later intercepted by the Indian Navy off Kochi and two marines — Massimiliano Lattore and Salvatore Girone — arrested.

Following a Supreme court order asking the Centre to set up a special court for their trial, the marines are currently in the Italian embassy in New Delhi and are required to report to the Chanakyapuri police station there once a week.

On Saturday, a requiem high mass will be celebrated in memory of Valentine at the Moothakara St. Peter’s parish church here. A similar mass was celebrated at the parish church of Erayumanthurai in Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu for Binish Pinky on Friday.

Mr. Freddy, 30, travelled all the way from Erayumanthurai in mourning clothes and offered prayers at the grave of Valentine. His wife went to the cemetery where Binish Pinky was buried and offered prayers. Mr. Freddy then went to have a look at his boat which has been hauled and kept ashore at the Neendakara port.

Mr. Freddy was virtually in tears when he saw the boat, his only means of livelihood, rusting and deteriorating. The boat cannot be repaired and used for fishing, he told The Hindu . It could only be scrapped for no more than Rs.50,000.

But the boat, which was hit by several bullets, is a vital material evidence for the case and Mr. Freddy cannot enjoy its ownership until the trial is over. He said that without the boat he and his family were in dire straits. He also had to look after his two younger sisters, three brothers, and an aged mother. He had lost his father several years ago.

The compensation of Rs.17 lakh paid to him by the owners of Enrica Lexie through an adalat was largely used to clear debts and also meet expenses connected with travelling in connection with the investigation of the case. He said though the boat was a vital material evidence, he had to pay Rs.60,000 towards the expenses to haul it ashore. Rs.12,000 went as service charges to the bank that cleared the cheque for him.

Mr. Freddy said he was quite confused over the uncertainty over the trial of the case. He still wants the strongest possible punishment to be awarded to the arrested marines. In addition to killing two innocent mates of his, the incident had also ruined his livelihood.

“Wherever the trial is held, I am prepared to go and testify as a witness,” he said.

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