Italian oil tanker brought to Kochi, crew questioned

After registering a murder case, Police and Coast Guard personnel on Friday questioned the crew of the Italian oil tanker whose security guards killed two Indian fishermen off the Kerala coast in firing which authorities here said was without provocation and an error of judgement'.

Inspector General S P S Basra, Regional Commander of Coast Guard Region (West), told reporters here that the merchant vessel Enrica Lexie was in the Indian Exclusive Zone when the shooting occurred off Kollam coast on Wednesday. A diplomatic row has erupted between India and Italy over the incident.

The vessel had not reported the incident and it was the coastal police at Neendakara in Kollam district which communicated it to the Coast Guard and search operations were launched, Basra said.

"It was an error of judgement on the part of the vessel," he said, adding, firing on unarmed fishermen was not correct.

"There was no provocation from the fishermen's side. The police are investigating the matter. Our waters are not piracy infested," he added.

Basra said the Italian vessel had taken some time to accept the case.

"FIR has been registered and police was investigating the case," he said when asked about the reported delay in taking action against the erring vessel.

On the explanation by the Italian vessel that they had opened fire suspecting the fishermen to be pirates, he said, "Any incident of piracy has to be immediately reported to the Coast Guard. They have not done it. They informed over two and a half hours later", Basra said.

The coastal police last night registered a murder case against the crew of the vessel based on the evidence of bullet injuries found on the bodies of the dead fishermen -- Valentine alias Jelestine, 45 and Ajesh Binki, 25-- during post-mortem.

The ship was brought to Kochi early today and police and Coast Guard personnel are questioning the crew. It has been berthed at Kochi oil terminal, where security has been tightened.

The preliminary assessment of the marine authorities is that armed guards aboard the ship might have fired at the fishing boat on which there were 11 people mistaking it for a vessel of pirates.

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