The Indian Navy on Friday lashed out at the Italian oil tanker, Enrica Lexie, for flouting the laid-down counter-piracy measures, which resulted in the ship's armed guards, who are Italian military personnel, gunning down two Indian fishermen in the contiguous sea zone off Ambalapuzha on Wednesday.
On Thursday, a team of Coast Guard and Coastal Police personnel boarded the tanker, now anchored off Kochi, for a detailed investigation.
“It appears that the set procedures [to be adopted by merchant ships on such occasions] were given a go-by, which is completely unacceptable,” Vice-Admiral K.N. Sushil, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Southern Naval Command and Commander-in-Chief (Coastal Defence) of the Southern Zone, told The Hindu .
“If they thought they were being chased by a pirate vessel, they should have carried out evasive manoeuvres to alter the course of the ship, as enunciated by the guidelines. If the skiff was still after them, they would've fired fire a few warning shots well above the bow of the pirate vessel to deter it. Unfortunately, they do not seem to have done any of this,” said the Vice-Admiral.
“The Italians are claiming that this was a successful anti-piracy operation, but it is crystal clear that the fishermen were unarmed and were not attempting to come alongside the tanker to board it. As the tanker crew claims to have been fired upon, I sent [fast attack craft] INS Kabra to ascertain if there were bullet marks on it. It went around the ship to find that there was none. I've also asked my men to verify the tanker's logbook to account for the number of rounds fired by the guards. This is to see if they had fired any warning shot at all. What are you talking about the fishing vessel giving you a chase when the maximum speed it can attain is just about eight knots?” the Vice-Admiral asked.
“The international shipping lanes have shifted inwards close to our waters lately after a few incidents of piracy were reported on the seas off Thiruvananthapuram,” he added.
In Kollam, the Coastal Police registered a murder case against the crew of the tanker under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code. While no particular name figured, the police said the accused would be indentified after interrogating the crew members. Investigators from the Central intelligence agencies, including the Research and Analysis Wing, arrived at the Coastal police station in Kollam on Thursday to gather details.
The bodies of the two fishermen were brought to Neendakara harbour late on Wednesday night and taken to the Medical College Hospital, Thiruvananthapuram, for post mortem. Valentine's body was taken back to Kollam and kept in a mortuary. The funeral will take place at his village Moothakkara in the suburbs of Kollam city at 9.30 a.m. on Friday. The body of the other victim, Pinku, was taken to Erayammanthurai in Tamil Nadu's Nagercoil district and buried.
While in Chennai, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa announced a solatium of Rs. 5 lakh to the family of Pinku, who hailed from Irayumanthurai village in Kanyakumari district. In Thiruvanthapuram, the Kerala Cabinet decided to grant a solatium of Rs. 5 lakh each to the kin of both the victims.