A bitter diplomatic confrontation appears to be brewing between India and Italy over the arrest of two Italian armed ship guards in Cochin who are accused of killing two Indian fishermen.
The Italian foreign ministry Tuesday described the Indian police action as “coercive and unilateral,” and said it is rushing a senior diplomat to New Delhi to help its group of officials deal with the case. The incident comes as major maritime nations, including the U.K. and Greece, look to allow armed guards on their flagged ships.
“Under Secretary Staffan De Mistura will have contacts at the highest level with the state and federal authorities in New Delhi and Cochin, where Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi will be visiting in person on Feb. 29,” the ministry said.
Italian officials said the guards, who were part of a six-member security detachment aboard the Enrica Lexie, could not be prosecuted in India as the oil tanker was sailing in international waters when the incident took place. Officials also said the deployment of armed guards on Italian-flag merchant ships was regulated by a specific Italian law and conformed to the United Nation’s anti-piracy resolutions.
“Contacts and collaboration between the two governments are considered essential to ascertaining the actual facts, in order to counter any unilateral actions undertaken by the police,” the ministry said.
Italy’s response comes as a local court ordered the arrested crew members be remanded in judicial custody until March 5. Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna earlier said the shooting on an “unarmed” fishing trawler was totally unwarranted and insisted the ship’s crew, particularly the captain and the two accused, cooperate with the investigating agencies.