Indian authorities on Sunday arrested two armed security guards aboard an Italian merchant ship who are accused of killing two fishermen off the country’s southern coast of Kerala on Feb. 15.
The police action came after intense diplomatic negotiations between Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and his Italian counterpart, according to local ports. The incident comes as major maritime nations, including the U.K. and Greece, look to allow armed guards on their flagged ships.
Italian officials earlier argued that the security guards fired warning shots before targeting the fishing trawler, which they mistook for a pirate vessel. But Indian authorities rejected such claims, saying fishermen were unarmed and could not have been mistaken for pirates.
“Moreover, the Italian cargo vessel did not report any piracy attempt to the Indian Navy or Coast Guard before firing on the trawler and was heading for Egypt when intercepted by the Coast Guard ship,” Indian officials said.
The armed guards, reportedly Italian naval personnel, were part of a six-member security detail of the Italian-flag oil tanker. The Enrica Lexie is under police surveillance and anchored near Cochin Port after being escorted there by an Indian Coast Guard frigate.
“The personnel on board Enrica Lexie, particularly the captain of the ship and the two concerned personnel involved in the shooting, should fully cooperate with the Indian investigating authorities,” S.M. Krishna said.
The arrested crew members are expected to be arraigned at a local court Tuesday.
“The cargo ship may not be able to leave Cochin for another five days. It’s for the court to decide on the ship’s status after considering the admiralty petition to be filed by family members of the two deceased fishermen,” a senior police officer said.
Officials said the 2008-built Enrica Lexie, which had 34 crew members including 19 Indians, was sailing from Singapore to Egypt. The 104,769-deadweight ton Enrica Lexie is reportedly owned by Dolphin Tanker and operated by Fratelli D’Amato, both based in Naples.