Kochi: The two Italian Navy personnel accused of firing at two Indian fishermen in Kochi a few days ago were brought to the shore on Sunday and taken into custody by the Kochi and Kollam Police. The Italian Consul General, who is in Kochi, and the captain of the Enrica Lexie accompanied them. The two are likely to be detained for a day or two. They will then be handed over to the Kollam Police who will then produce them before court. The two guards have been charged with murder under Section 302.
Kochi Zone IGP K Padmakumar confirmed the news. "They have been brought to land. They were taken into custody by the Kochi and the Kollam Police."
The two have been detained at a guesthouse, where their interrogation is going on. They will then be transferred to Kollam, where the case has been registered.
Meanwhile, the Italian envoy to India, Giacomo Sanfelice di Monteforte, refused to make a statement on the issue saying that they will speak only after they have reported to their authorities "on what happened".
"We will hold back and report to our authority on what happened. We will issue a statement after that," he said.
Meanwhile, sources close to the MEA said that India and Italy failed to reach an agreement over the issue and its resolution, during their talks held earlier this afternoon.
External Affairs Minister SM Krishna told Italy during the meeting that the guards will have to face a probe under Indian laws. However, Italians reportedly refused to cooperate. Krishna told his Italian counterpart that the crew of the ship should have exercised restraint as the fishermen carried no arms, but only fishing nets. The Italian foreign minister expressed regret. However, he sought mutually acceptable procedure to establish facts. The Italian Consulate General is in Kochi as well. But sources say that Rome wants to take legal action against the two marines as per the United Nations Convention and has invited India to act as an interested party, something which New Delhi is against.
Italy is keen to project the entire incident as a political and diplomatic issue. India, however, is seeing it as a purely legal issue. The Indian team comprising MEA and MHA officials even asked Italy to contact the Kerala government for further assistance, since law is a state subject.
Almost at the same time, the two guards were taken into custody by the Kochi Police. India's patience is running thin after days of exercising caution over the matter. An Italian team comprising diplomats and legal experts is expected to reach Delhi later this evening to discuss the legal aspects of the case.
The Kochi Police began questioning the crew members of the Enrica Lexie on Sunday over the killing of the two fishermen near Kochi port on February 15. The interrogation was conducted using interpreters, said sources.
Kochi Police Commissioner Ajith Kumar had earlier visited the vessel on Saturday evening - the second visit by a police team for the day and met the captain and the crew. The crew was told to surrender or face police action.
The Italian ship's crew had till now refused to be questioned and said they will cooperate only after discussing the matter with their diplomats.
Two fishermen, Ajesh Binki, 25, from Tamil Nadu and Gelastine, 45, from Kerala, were mistaken as pirates and shot dead by the crew of the Italian cargo vessel, about 14 nautical miles off Alappuzha.
Claims and counter-claims:
There are several discrepancies in the claims made by the captain of the Enrica Lexie that the investigators have drawn attention to and the Coast Guard has effectively refuted:
The captain of the Enrica has claimed that the ship switched on its search lights when they saw the boat approaching them. However, Coast Guard officials asked him if search lights were of any use in daylight?
The captain claimed that the boat was approaching at a very high speed. However, the Coast Guard says that fishing boats are not capable of moving at a speed of more than 6-8 nautical miles.
The captain also claimed that the ship crew fired warning shots when they saw the boat approaching. However, the Coast Guard asked if the boat was hit by 20 bullets, 3 bullets hitting one fisherman, and 4 another, then could they be called warning shots? Warning shots are fired in air, not at any object.
The captain further claimed that Enrica had voluntarily moved to Kochi in a bid to surrender. The Coast Guard however, refuted his argument saying the ship was actually fleeing toward Egypt and had been asked by them to return.