What is even worse than the actual cold-blooded murder of Indian seafarers (fishermen) in Indian waters off Kerala by Italian gun-for-hire mercenaries is the way the disinformation and misinformation campaign is being spread by vested interests in India and abroad
The biggest casualty is always the truth when incidents involving unequals occur. So, first things first, this article will get rid of a few myths being propagated by the mainstream media.
1) Jurisdiction. The larger question is not whether the incident took place on the high seas, economic zone of territorial waters. Or even which coast. The simple issue here is that the FV St Antony flies the Indian flag; two unsolved murders took place onboard this little floating piece of Indian territory and jurisdiction; one of the suspects is the MT Enrica Lexie and personnel onboard, which is now in Indian territory and control and is obliged to follow the due process of Indian law.
Which, in this case, means that anybody who is a related party can walk across to any police station in India, or better still the Yellow Gate Police Station in Mumbai—which happens to be the police station tasked with the responsibility of investigating crimes committed on the high seas pertaining to Indian interests. For a variety of reasons and one happens to be that the Directorate General of Shipping (DGS), Government of India, falls under its jurisdiction.
Why the DGS, which is tasked with looking after the interests of Indian shipping, has not filed a simple FIR (first information report) with the Yellow Gate Police Station in Mumbai in this case is not known, but can be surmised. The Merchant Shipping Act empowers them to do so, and this has been done in the past—the police can then transfer the case as may be required by law. This can be done co-terminus with the enquiry that the DGS has announced in this case.
2) Piracy or not? Question here is deeper—did the Enrica Lexie declare an emergency before, during or after the shootout, as it is obliged to? The answer here is that the ship did file an SAR (Search & Rescue) alarm. And then, instead of waiting at the scene, just steamed away without seeking formal permission to do so from the SAR co-ordinators. Incidentally, the process of declaring such an emergency or Mayday involves pressing just one of half-a-dozen buttons, at any stage—for a very highly automated process to start globally.
The reason the ship steamed away is simple—shoot and scoot. However, co-ordination and control of the response to the emergency and Mayday shifts to the authorities who respond, who designate a coordination and command centre, usually external. Enrica Lexie after the shootout probably thought that the Indian authorities would not be able to connect the dots. It is providence that Kochi is a major naval base, and assets were available to track her down, otherwise a few more hours and she would have simply vanished.
This is where the delay in responding by the DG Shipping, Mercantile Marine Department and the state government becomes suspicious, as it permitted the Enrica Lexie to flee. Any future investigation needs to look into this too—as to why did matters escalate only after the fishermen returned to their home port, when the maritime administration and state government were already aware
3) So what did the Enrica Lexie do after the shootout? This is where it gets sickening. Obviously sources can not be revealed but what emerges is that the two Italian captains on the ship (one in command and one on parallel voyage) first contacted the owners D'Amato Fratelli in Naples and Emanuelle Lauro of Scorpio Shipping in Monaco. This then flowed into the offices of Scorpio Ship Management at Hiranandani Gardens in Mumbai, which has various back-to-back arrangements in place, where a particular Italian citizen of Indian origin, captain Ashley Cooper, is in charge.
Capt Cooper then, apparently, activated his own sources. It is also interesting to learn about the persons who work for Scorpio/Mumbai, their relationship to people from DGS/MMD, as well as the reasons why Indian crew are supplied by another agency in India, while some element of control of the ship lies with Scorpio/Mumbai.
It gets murkier now, as the Enrica Lexie then abandoned the injured and dying seamen on the fishing boat in direct violation of every tradition, every aspect of good seamanship and every law of the sea relevant to such incidents. It then changed its declared destination from Fujairah to Egypt, altered course in a westerly direction, to make as much ocean space between India and itself. Numerous mobile phone calls were attempted at this juncture, as the ship went out of mobile phone range—incidentally, it is suspected that she came close to the coast for this reason itself.
Even the AIS data for the ship from Singapore onwards has been deleted from records on the Internet. It is suspected that data held onboard on various data recorders would also have been tampered with by now. All other things apart, if that is the case, then there is a clear case of wanton and wilful destruction of evidence being made out, too.
It is not just a case of doing what is correct. Right now, the world of commerce and trade globally is watching, waiting to see what the sovereign and free nation of India does. All the big talk we make about being an economic superpower will come to naught, zilch, nada, zero, if we can not protect our own front yard.
The Italian mercantile marine is not exactly regarded as the last word in seafaring ethics, globally. We really don’t have to bat for them. Even their own authorities, as in the case of the Costa Concordia, have taken a realistic view on the subject. Hiding behind the tax haven of Monaco, as is being done in this case, makes matters even more suspicious.
The simple fact is that this ship and its complement have behaved like a bunch of bandicoots, which is something that is not unusual, given the beneficiary and despondent ownership pattern of this ship. The role of the Mumbai office of Scorpio Ship Management in Mumbai also needs to be investigated deeper, since as of now, the man-in-charge there, one captain Tarun Kumar, is denying any form of involvement even though the ship is listed on their international website as being under their management.
What is really terrible is the way the mercantile marine establishment in India is behaving. A foreign flag ship, mis-utilising its right of innocent passage through Indian waters goes on a manhunt and murder spree within sight of India, and all that the DG Shipping of India has done is to launch an enquiry, when by now an FIR should have been launched on the murder of two Indian seafarers on an Indian flag fishing vessel operating out of an Indian port in Indian waters at the Yellow Gate Police Station outside their own office.
There is every reason to believe that evidence will be tampered with, money power will prevail, and bets are out—the ship will sail on Monday. And the world will laugh at us, once again.
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Killing of Indian seafarers in cold blood off Kerala—the case of the St Anthony and Enrica Lexie
(Veeresh Malik started and sold a couple of companies, is now back to his first love—writing. He is also involved actively in helping small and midsize family-run businesses re-invent themselves. Mr Malik had a career in the Merchant Navy which he left in 1983, qualifications in ship-broking and chartering, a love for travel, and an active participation in print and electronic media as an alternate core competency, all these and more.)
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