Now that the two Italian marines accused of killing two fishermen off Kerala in February 2012 while on duty aboard a merchant vessel are >back in India after having gone home for Christmas, the need is to ensure a fair but quick trial. The swiftest possible conclusion should enable all concerned to put an end to the matter. The Kerala High Court’s decision to grant them leave for a Christmas-season visit, and their return well ahead of the January 10 deadline set, have generated mutual goodwill. A complex legal process now lies ahead, as Rome insists the marines should be prosecuted in their home country because the events involve an Italian-flagged vessel in international waters; India, however, says the incident took place in its waters. Indeed, the dispute is no more over the facts of the case, but over who has trial jurisdiction. Both sides should now ensure that jingoism of any kind does not come in the way of a fair legal trial and outcome.
Important in the long term are steps to change its delineation of the “high risk area” (involving perceptions of attacks from Somalian pirates further afield in the Arabian Sea), away from India’s fishing zones. This situation has been forcing a growing number of foreign vessels to transit close to India’s western coast. In some instances this has led to transgression into fishing zones, and at least two previous encounters bear testimony to this fact. India ought to raise this issue actively and persistently with the United Nations and other agencies. While pirate attacks, especially those involving Somali outlaws, remain a major threat to the maritime industry, the International Maritime Bureau needs to clarify and update their advisories to vessels passing through benign areas with regard to “risks” posed by small fishing boats. The Indian Coast Guard and Navy ought to step up naval patrolling and air surveillance to ensure coastal security while also launching programmes for fishing communities to make them aware of the risks and stay out of harm’s way. It has been pointed out that some 300,000 fishing boats operate along the Indian coast. When the helpless fishers find a mighty vessel approaching, they typically raise an alarm and often sail towards it to draw the crew’s attention and prevent damage to their gear. Ensuring the safety and security of fishermen who take to the seas to earn a living but who seem forever under threat, is an imperative. Given its long coastal zone, India should take this opportunity to strengthen its expertise in international legal processes on the maritime front. By no means should the Enrica Lexie incident lead to diffidence when it comes to deterrence from attacks on the seas.