Italian marines case | SC stays disbursement of ₹2 crore to owner of fishing boat

Crew claims share, saying they suffered moral harm and trauma due to incident

August 19, 2021 01:43 pm | Updated 02:02 pm IST - NEW DELHI

File photo of the Supreme Court of India.

File photo of the Supreme Court of India.

The Supreme Court on Thursday stayed the disbursement of ₹2 crore to the owner of a fishing boat shot at by two Italian marines aboard the Italian flagship Enrica Lexie in 2012 after 10 crew members demanded their share from his compensation.

The crew said they have every right to get a cut of the compensation from the boat owner. They said they too had suffered “moral harm” and trauma after escaping death by hair’s breadth.

Issuing notice to the boat owner, a Bench of Justices Indira Banerjee and V. Ramasubramanian asked the Kerala High Court not to disburse the ₹2 crore to the boat owner for the time being. The court will take up the case again after two weeks.

Also read | SC orders closure of court proceedings in India against two Italian marines

Justice Banerjee, however, indicated that once the owner comes aboard after receiving notice, the top court may ask the Kerala High Court to take a call on the crew’s demand for their share.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, had earlier in the hearing suggested that the crew could directly approach the High Court with their plea for a portion of the owner’s compensation. Mr. Mehta said the Bench, instead of taking up the matter directly, ought to ask the High Court to implead the boat owner and the 10 crew members and decide their case there.

Though Justice Banerjee considered Mr. Mehta’s advice initially, the Bench finally decided to have the boat owner appear in the Supreme Court first before taking any further steps.

During the court hearing, advocate Manish Dembla, for the crew members, said two of their friends on the boat were killed in the shooting. They said not a penny from the ₹10 crore compensation paid by the Republic of Italy has reached them. They were not even made parties in the case.

On June 15, the Supreme Court had agreed to close criminal proceedings against marines Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone after Italy paid ₹10 crore. The Supreme Court order came on the basis of a decision by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) in May 2020 to have the duo stand trial in Italy. The tribunal had ordered Italy to recompense the loss of lives, physical harm, material damage and moral harm caused by the shooting.

Of the ₹10 crore, ₹4 crore each was allotted to the families of the two dead fishermen. The remaining ₹2 crore was set aside for the boat owner.

The ten survivors argued that the bullets had damaged the outer body of the boat. They said the boat was worth only ₹10 lakh. The boat owner got ₹17 lakh as ex gratia, along with ₹1 crore paid to the families of their two dead colleagues, in 2012.

The 10 of them were not paid anything. In fact, they said the Kerala government has already written to them on July 24, implying they would not be paid any compensation from the ₹10 crore also.

They said a payment of ₹2 crore exclusively for the fishing boat owner was “not justified”. They urged the court to permit them equal share.

They submitted that the international tribunal had acknowledged the fact that “moral harm” caused by the shooting incident should be duly compensated.

“The compensation for moral harm suffered by the Captain and the crew of St Antony has escaped the attention of the court. The crew was not represented in the court hearing on June 15… On account of the shock and grief, permanent moral harm has been caused to us. We are afraid to venture into the sea after the shooting incident,” their application said.

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