India Releases Italian Ship Guards for Christmas

India Releases Italian Ship Guards for Christmas

MUMBAI, India — An Indian court has allowed two Italian ship guards charged with the killing of Indian fishermen off the Kerala coast last February to go home for Christmas.

“The ship guards should pledge a bank guarantee for 60 million rupees ($1.1 million) and should return to India on or before Jan. 10, 2013," the court said.

The ruling, which followed a petition by Italy, is subject to final clearance from the Indian central government.

The armed guards were part of a six-member security detachment aboard the Enrica Lexie, an Italian-flag oil tanker, sailing from Singapore to Egypt. The tanker was released by local authorities in May after ship owner Dolphin Tankers furnished a $600,000 surety bond and an undertaking to cooperate with the trial. Italy earlier argued that the guards had fired warning shots before targeting the fishing trawler, which they mistook for a pirate vessel. But Indian authorities rejected such claims, stating fishermen were unarmed and could not have been mistaken for pirates.

The arrest and jailing of ship guards drew sharp protests from the Italian foreign ministry, describing the Indian police action as “coercive and unilateral.” Rome argued Indian courts had no jurisdiction in the case because the incident occurred in international waters, but the local administration rejected the claims.

Italian foreign ministry officials last week summoned Indian Ambassador to Rome Debrabata Saha and insisted the Indian Supreme Court expedite a decision on its appeal to quash the trial.