Court in southern India asks government’s response on Italian marines bail plea

STORY: The Kerala High Court in southern India on Tuesday (December 18) gave the federal government a day to inform whether the assurance given by the Italian embassy on the return of the two marines here after celebrating Christmas, was acceptable.

The two marines had petitioned to the High Court for permission to visit Italy for Christmas under the assurance that they would return after the festival.

Earlier in the day, families and community members of two Indian fishermen killed by Italian marines slammed the petition.

The Italian government has given an undertaking the marines would be in its custody during their stay and would take responsibility for their return to India.

Last week Italy had expressed ‘strong disappointment’ over the delay in the legal proceedings in India and summoned New Delhi’s ambassador to urge India’s Supreme Court to reach a decision before the year-end Christmas holiday on where the marines would be tried.

The two Italian sailors, members of a military security team protecting the cargo ship Enrica Lexie from pirate attacks, fired on the fishermen’s boat off the Indian coast in February. Italian officials say the men mistook the fishermen for pirates.

Italy says the shooting took place in international waters outside the jurisdiction of Indian courts. India disputes this, saying the incident occurred in a “contiguous zone” where Indian law applies.

The case has soured relations between Italy and India, with Rome insisting that Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone are military personnel and should be tried at home.

Indian authorities accuse the sailors of killing unarmed fishermen off the coast of Kerala in a case that has caused outrage in the south Asian nation of 1.2 billion people.

In April, Italy paid $190,000 compensation to each of the victims’ families, who then dropped their cases against the marines, but the state’s case continues.

Italy petitioned Supreme Court after the Kerala High Court held that the marines were liable to be tried under Indian law.

Attacks on ships have increased in the eastern side of the Arabian Sea, as better security around the Horn of Africa has pushed Somali pirates to range as far as the Maldives. The waters close to India are generally considered safer.