Indian authorities released the Italian-flag merchant ship Enrica Lexie after an 80-day detention off the Kerala coast, easing a standoff that threatened to strain diplomatic ties between the two countries.
“The ship sailed from Cochin Port’s outer harbor for Colombo on Saturday night after completing all legal formalities,” local authorities said.
Police authorities had arrested the oil tanker and its crew Feb. 16 as part of investigations into the killing of two Indian fishermen, which culminated in the jailing of two Italian armed ship guards.
“The release of the ship is a first step toward a comprehensive solution to the case – which concerns, above all, the return of our two Navy riflemen held in Kerala,” the Italian foreign ministry said in a statement.
The release came after ship owner Dolphin Tankers furnished a $600,000 surety bond and an undertaking to cooperate with the trial.
The prosecution earlier drew a sharp protest from Italian officials, describing the Indian action as “coercive and unilateral”. Italy argued that Indian courts had no jurisdiction in the case as the incident took place in international waters, but New Delhi rejected such claims.
The 2008-built Enrica Lexie, which had 34 crew members including 19 Indians, was on passage from Singapore to Egypt when security guards fired on the “unarmed” Indian fishing trawler after they mistook it for a pirate vessel.