Killing of Indian seafarers off Kerala—what lessons need to be learnt?

There is a global broad pattern in such cases, where ships and the crew on board are held hostage by a variety of entities for a variety of genuine or suspect reasons. In this often repeated phenomenon, the selected crew members are taken into custody and the ship itself is released after a few days on bonds and promises—and then sails away with a fresh crew, usually to acquire a new name and flag 

Am I the only person who finds it strange that till now there has been no real in-depth human interest reportage on the family of the two Kerala based seafarers onboard the FV St Antony who have been killed so mercilessly on the high seas in the incident with the Italian tanker MT Enrica Lexie? Meanwhile, prime position is given to an incorrect and ill-informed line that India’s territorial jurisdiction extends to only 12 miles beyond its mainland’s coast. Sadly, all par for the course, as the murder of crow like apologists caw away, busy joining each other in a chorus while the real truth is sought to be ignored around the curtain of ignorance and agendas, controlled by puppet-masters behind the scenes.

Likewise, while there appears to be much sadness about the cost of holding the MT Enrica Lexie back in Kochi, no thoughts are being spared for the fate of Freddy, the owner of the FV St Antony, whose boat stands riddled with bullets and will now be rendered almost incapable of providing a livelihood to the fishermen involved because it becomes case property. While the Indian fishermen continue to make the rounds of police stations and hospitals and more, and the Indian seafarers onboard the MT Enrica Lexie, including the group led by the junior engineer who were reportedly threatened by the Italian guards for demanding that the ship report the incident to the Indian authorities are not being involved in the investigation, the Italian mercenaries onboard are reportedly enjoying a sojourn at a plush government provided guest house where they have been provided with every possible amenity and luxury including the facility of blowing literal and figurative smoke rings at the investigators.

Sometimes I wonder what the junior rank policemen must be thinking about this, as they go about catching petty thieves and lock them up inside the Cochin Harbour Police Station, while providing a full dress escort service to mercenaries who indulge in target practice on innocent seamen and fishermen, outside the same harbour. One report says that they are indeed, rather agitated.  But then, at the end of the day, this may well be the episode that causes change to occur. And in Kerala, where literacy and awareness levels are certainly high, there is every hope that the common man will not be cowed down by those who would rule and oppress, as would have happened elsewhere.

There is a global broad pattern in such cases, where ships and the crew onboard are held hostage by a variety of entities for a variety of genuine or suspect reasons, which usually goes like this: First the media and through them the public has to be mollified, so a few high-profile photo and television opportunities are the order of the day—and correct sounding statements are made by all. Meanwhile, the PR companies and others are working hard behind the scenes, so the planted stories start emerging, usually taking on the ship-owner’s and more importantly their banker’s points of views—which are now purely commercial. In the third and concluding part of this often repeated phenomenon (and there are hundreds, if not more, seafarers who are the targets of criminalisation the world over) the selected crew members are taken into custody and the ship itself is released after a few days on bonds and promises—and then sails away with a fresh crew, usually to acquire a new name and flag.

Meanwhile, seafarers usually from third world countries, rot. The difference, this time, is that sailors and soldiers from a country which has every chance of joining the third world soon, appears to be involved. A bit confusing, that, but now that this fact has sunk in, that these sailors and soldiers are in as state guests for a while, the main purpose is to try and get the ship out and running as well as earning as soon as possible. Insurance won’t pay all that easily where it is proved that the incident was not exactly covered, so put up the bonds, and move on.

First things first, therefore as far as India is concerned, these bonds and promises are all but worthless unless backed by solid hard cash and assets from identifiable people or entities which exist in jurisdictions where or with which the Indian legal and government system has over-riding authority. I am going to be very interested in keeping track of this element of the next phase of developments in this case, and also on the government agency which will provide the advice on this matter, usually the Directorate General of Shipping, or DGS. Absolutely water-tight information on the beneficiary ownership of these ships is essential—preferably backed by sovereign guarantees. Let us not forget that somebody else’s armed and uniformed soldier has swung by and used my human beings for target practice in my front yard.

Next, by a series of Right to Information (RTI) applications, some amount of fact finding on how and why the initial reactions were what they were.  Briefly there appears to have been attempts for a cover-up by an assortment of entities on Wednesday, 15 February 2012 evening itself, until the Indian Coast Guard and Indian Navy stepped in. After that, throughout much of 16 February 2012, even though the Enrica Lexie was at outer anchorage off Kochi, a line was placed in the public domain that this incident was not in India's jurisdiction, as the ship was variously well beyond 12 miles from the mainland—which failed when it was pointed out that enough laws existed on the statute books to ensure investigation and possible prosecution of the suspected criminals.

On 17 February 2012 the bogey of ‘compensation’ was raised, with numbers moving up rapidly from Rs10,000 to Rs5 lakh and after that the numbers stopped making sense, along with some rather disturbing inputs that pressure was being put on the Indian seafarers on board the Enrica Lexie as well as the families of the fishermen to toe a particular line. Simultaneously, stories started doing the rounds that the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) was going to take a stand and whispers about the Italian hand gained strength, till some straight talking by the ministry of home affairs as well as ministry of external affairs took charge of matters along a larger line of national interest.

When this also did not cut any ice, the political system of Kerala and India threw in the towel, demanding stern action. Whatever that meant. I guess they will now wait in the wings for the fuss to die down, and the next big news to overtake this incident. A failing airline might do the trick.

The rest, of course, is now with the legal system in India where, goes without saying, many of us have the faith in. In any case, it is not correct to comment on something which has entered the legal system, so that is as far as that goes.

However, since we are here not only for reportage, observation, analysis and more, but also to try and be part of the solution, what could one ideally hope for would emerge from this experience? Here’s a brief wish-list, along the lines of what has been discussed at seminar and conferences, but acquires greater urgency now.

  1. An early resolution of the long debated and delayed coastal Vessel Traffic Service, or VTS, for the complete coast of India. As on date, some start has been made, on the Gujarat coast. One reason has been the total co-operation of the Gujarat government and the state maritime board. The other is, of course, the proximity to Pakistan. Minor provisions exist elsewhere, but are not enough, as yet.
  2. Placing reporting systems in place for all armed merchant ships travelling within India’s economic zone, which extends to up to 200 miles off our coast, mainland and islands. In other words, anything leaving Malacca Straits or heading South from the Persian Gulf, and we need to know if they are armed. And if they are armed, then they need to abide by Indian laws, or go to the high seas beyond.
  3. Next step, ensuring that only those merchant ships with armed guards from approved sources, preferably Indian, are within our economic zone. As on date, foreign companies are permitted to place their guards on ships going through our waters, but Indian companies are not allowed, despite applications piling up. This is something which simply cannot be condoned, this delay, in placing ex-Indian Navy commandos on board merchant ships in Indian waters.
  4. Mandatory provision for AIS (Automatic Identification System) by our government on all Indian flag vessels of any size which plan to venture out more than 12 miles offshore and then, setting up the antennae to monitor them. Take a look here for the black hole on our coast in this context:
  5. Some radical changes in ship design, as the eventual long-term solution, by way of stronger and better citadels. At the end of the day, just like life saving and fire fighting, this too will have to be more pro-active by placing preventives into position rather than reactive by encouraging an arms race. There has been no progress on this aspect in India at all.
  6. Clear definitions of chain of command and escalation matrixes onboard merchant ships passing through Indian waters with armed guards onboard. In the case of the MT Enrica Lexie, for example, the Shipowner’s Association of Italy and the Italian armed forces happily gave each other an indemnity for any acts by each other globally in high risk areas without as much as a by your leave to the countries whose waters they were going to impact with this. (This is like if my neighbour’s guard shooting me on suspicion of staring at his wife while I am drinking tea on my balcony, and then I am expected to honour the indemnity that the two have given each other!)
  7. Some serious re-thinking by the DGS on terms and conditions for Indian seafarers working on foreign flag ships. With national interest paramount and foremost. As on date, the approach is highly mutual back-slapping old-boy tie network oriented, and the result is out there to see in the way the whole Enrica Lexie/St Antony episode was sought to be shoved under the carpet.
  8. And finally, early escalation of other maritime issues which need to be resolved, also to show that we have a spine. Like completing the formalities with Wreck Removal and Pollution conventions, for example, or staking our claim strongly to territories like the Chagos Archipelago snatched from us. This is a long list, incidentally.

As I write this, news comes in that MT Enrica Lexie has been moved from alongside the Ernakulum tanker berth to Cochin anchorage, where she awaits further orders. Likewise, matters will proceed, and as things have always been at sea—life will go on. What happens to the Italians in custody is also important, the law must prevail, and so be it.

However, the big takeaway that has been set in motion here is that national and international ship-owners and operators and crew onboard realise that they shall need to be cautious in the future, and our own administration has hopefully received a wake-up call that they cannot take the common people of this country for granted all the time.

For that, hats off to the real motivators, the fishermen of Kerala. Unsung heroes of this episode, there are facts which have been brought to my knowledge which reveal how strong they have been, unlike other elements in governance.

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 (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.)


1 decade ago
Indians in US complain of rude consular staff: Survey
1 decade ago
Italy Shoots, Norway Adducts, India Bleeds – T J S George

Must the world take us for granted?
Replied to KUTTY comment 1 decade ago
The really sad part is that even Indian flag ships are made to take foreign armed guards onboard, while Indian guards supplied by Indian companies or ex-servicemen/policemen (and who use ex-servicemen/policemen especially those with naval backgrounds . . .) are not used. This is the brilliance of our system which will now, hopefully, change.

The root of the problem is with the offices of the DGS, which appears to be a fairly impotent body, given to behaving like a bully at those Indians under it and like a supplicant to the non-Indian entities who actually control it. This is how the colonial remnants do it and this is what needs to change.

1 decade ago
Thank you all for your comments.

1) On this forum, I do not want to take matters into a religious interaction, so shall refrain from answering. To me, the Vatican is a country, and Italy has a few more small enclaves like San Marino as well as ambitions in the rest of the world, so it is better to keep it along lines of country and economics here please. Though, having said that, the economy of Italy does happen to be almost totally dependant and controlled now by religious elements.

2) The larger issue here, as pointed out to me by friends, is the way the Italians across the board have sprung to the defence of their own people, the armed mercenaries onboard the Enrica Lexie. As Indians, I hope our establishment has also learnt something from this, and hope to see similar spirited defence of Indians abroad when they are in trouble - especially if they have been sent there under the authority of the State / Country.

Humbly submitted.

Martyr of Truth
Replied to malq comment 1 decade ago
Dear malq,

I'm very interested in your findings regarding Italian economy. Unfortunately here in Italy everything is controlled by religious elements, as you correctly point out. I did research for more than 20 years in this dangerous subjects, and my humble person has survived by miracle 3 deadly and treacherous attacks by agents of the Pope. I survive now in my hideout somewhere in the Dolomites, don't ask more please. But there is one thing that I want to tell you: Vatican is only the first level of this gigantic conspirational plot. Initiates know that the Vatican is controlled by a powerful Templar sect, to whom for instance the minister Terzi belongs. But again this is just the second level. I discovered that there are 9 levels of increasing secret powers ruling Italy, the last one being called the Immortals. From my sources, none of whom is alive today, I've obtained 3 months ago an out of focus picture of one of the Immortals. My God, I cannot look at it ... he is a big lizard, with green skin, golden eyes and a bi-forked tongue. Yes we Italians are in the hands of powerful and ruthless aliens, whose ultimate goal is the domination of the whole earth. The fishermen incident is just a minimum, insignificant hassle of this millennial plan. A grain of sand in their inhuman, relentless domination machine. Don't look at the grain of sand. Look at the whole picture, I beg you. The Immortals are evil.

Respectfully yours,
Replied to Martyr of Truth comment 1 decade ago
Hello Marty, this is the serious aspect of the murder of two Indian fishermen, that is being discussed on this board.

Humbly submitted,


ps: Taoism also has it's own place . . .
Replied to malq comment 1 decade ago
Yes, your are right. But certain issues must not be pushed under the carpet as pointed out by Mr. Mukherjee.

The following issue may not have any direct relationship with Ship firing issue. But the issue raised by the Catholic Laymen’s Association is really disturbing to the secular minded people of India.

India Vision TV Report:

No Action Taken Against Just. Syriac Joseph &Justice Kurian Joseph

Catholic Laymen's Association, Calicut District, Kerala petitioned (with evidence) to the President of India in the Month of October 2010 alleging that both Justice Syriac Joseph and Justice Kurian Joseph are engaged in implementation and propagation of Canon Laws in India. These laws are the constitution of Vatican nation. The Hon. President of India has forwarded this petition to the Law Ministry.
Please see the video clipping of India Vision:

[Justice Syriac Joseph retired from Supreme Court recently. Justice Kurian Joseph is currently the Chief Justice of Himachal Pradesh]
Replied to Kutty comment 1 decade ago
Please read the follwoing articles also about Retired Supreme Court Justice Cyriac Joseph

On 15 August 2009, Justice Cyriac Joseph of the Supreme Court, while addressing the International Laity Conference organized by Commission for Laity of Syro-Malabar Catholic Church [CLSMCC] in Kochi, openly declared his commitment to the church is higher than to the judiciary! He said there was no decline in his affection and love for the Church [PTI, 15 August 2009; Janmabhoomi Daily, Kottayam, 17 August 2009]. The speech is undoubtedly a clear violation of his oath of allegiance.

Kerala lawyers seek action against SC judge

Chief Justice of Inida Justice K.G. Balakrishnan denied enquiry against Justice Cyriac Joseph
Replied to Gk comment 1 decade ago
There is a simple, newer, economic equation at play here.

Unlike in the past, people of Indian origin now wield more economic strength in Italy, right into the holiest of holies as well as the Italian economy, than they ever did in the past.

That makes all the difference.

But I still do not want to get into the religious debate here on this board. Many reasons.

1) This magazine is, in my humble opinion, above this.
2) There are other forums for this. The core here is economic issues and how matters impact our day to day life.

Money Life, remember? In most of my articles here, I try to bring out the connect between what is happening elsewhere, may appear unconnected, but how it shapes our money and life. (And increases our cost of living . . . sadly.)

Humbly submitted.
Replied to malq comment 1 decade ago
Communalism creates hostility between different groups and clashes with the mobilization of labor (Life !) and capital (money !) , which are important factors of production that contribute to economic growth.

Judge Lance Ito of Los Angeles Court - A Jurist with impeccable integrity

GP Nair
1 decade ago
Dear Sir,

This crime happened in sea with an Indian fishing vessel - Indian Navy and Coast Guard did a great job by tracking down the culprit. They even brought down the ship to shore Kochi.

Just out of curiousness,

Why there is no further action or further proceedings from our Indian Navy and Coast guard to raid the Italian ship and arrest the Captain? It was an armed ship and that anchored in cochin port(very tactical port for Navy). Only Navy or those in shipping field will be knowing the exact information to be collected from a ship. Our ordinary police men or even an IPS officers don't have the technical or we can say no knowledge in ship technical details and records. So over all the case will fail without evidence. Now itself local channels started showing the police FIR mentioned 33.4 miles away from shore. They took from reported police station !!!!

The Director general of Shipping does not have any role at all ?? Not even providing any help to local investigating authorities.

Locals papers started reporting some other reports like the vessel is carrying other than oil and thats why the whole Italian ministry came down for release and pressed not to arrest the captain.
The ship stayed there in Sri Lankan port on the way and for what purpose? The crew members board the ships. Many un-answered questions in local media.

One thing is sure, the top level politicians and babus involved in this and they already prepared a good script to fool the common man.

There is one Catholic Priest involving in this - read the news -

Replied to GP Nair comment 1 decade ago
Dear GP

You have pinned the nail on the head by saying that..the vessel is carrying other than oil...or they came near to the shore to load something which was seen by the fishermen. So the mercinaries acted to remove the evidence.

Now, I am sure India is ruled by Foreign agents and their aim is to sell India in parts.
Replied to GP Nair comment 1 decade ago
Government must immediately order an inquiry and find out that whether Mar Alencherry, the newly ordained Cardinal from Kerala who is now in Rome, had given instructions to the Catholic Ministers in the Centre and State Cabinet not to act precipitately in the case. The call records must immediately be verified to find out the truth.

It is also bewildering why our opposition parties, especially the BJP is keeping silent over the issue.
S Mukherjee
Replied to Kutty comment 1 decade ago
Yes, as Mr Kutty has very rightly pointed out this angle of the interference of the Catholic Church from Rome has to be pursued by the citizens of this country so that the Central government is obliged under pressure to counter this and probe the matter fully - and not push the matter under the carpet - acting upon dictates from the Catholic Church there (Vatican). As the said Christian Cardinal of Kerala, while at Rome (accompanied by another central Congress party leader and minister K.V. Thomas), has reportedly issued a statement that he had immediately contacted the Catholic ministers in the Congress led Kerala UDF government not to take prompt action on the Italians. Reports suggest the BJP Party President in Kerala V. Muralidharan has in fact asked the Catholic Cardinal Alencherry "to clarify where his loyalty lies" - to Italy or our motherland, India. Though fully agree that the opposition BJP must take up this matter strongly at the centre so that the Vatican is prevented from dictating Indian foreign policy matters from Rome through their nominees here.

I would request the author to continue with another article on this series focusing solely on this angle of Indian foreign policy being dictated from Rome on this matter.

Best regards
Replied to S Mukherjee comment 1 decade ago
Mr. AK. Antony is a very honest man and a secular person. However, as a Catholic and a Keralite, he must clear the air that he did not receive any calls or "instructions" from Cardinal Mar George Alencherry regarding the Italian ship firing issue.
Replied to Kutty comment 1 decade ago
Thank you for your comments.

1)I have no idea why the FIR mentions 33.4 miles, and would like to see some more on that.

2) The less said about DG Shipping and its capabilities as well as lack of pro-activemess, the better. I have seen RTOs and checkposts which function far better on the highways.

3) Yes, some more information does point in the direction of the vessel doing something more than just "normal" shipping business, but then, the Italians have been famous for that in these waters for decades now. More on that soon.

Humbly submitted/VM
Replied to Kutty comment 1 decade ago
A K Antony will do anything for Sonia and can not trust him. I suspect that the ship was carrying some contraband related to Sonia and family.

We need to see whether any action taken against Indian navay - southern command for acting independently.
1 decade ago
Malq sir, my comment was made in lighter vein. Yes, you are right. Our own diplomats need to learn how to respond when our own men land in trouble outside the country. We must appreciate Italian consul-general Mr. Giampaolo Cutillo for his commitment towards his countrymen. He was with the accused ever since the incident happened.

Two Indian kids were forcibly taken from their parents by the European state of Norway. Did any of our diplomats have taken any serious interest in the matter?. These little kids are still in "state custody" for no fault of their own. It was a criminal act and human rights violation committed by the Norwegians. Why our Government still in limbo over this very serious human and child rights issue ?
Replied to KUTTY comment 1 decade ago

Indians in US complain of rude consular staff: Survey
1 decade ago
Thank you for writing in, Kutty ji . . . and there are many lessons to be learnt.

For example, our own government needs to learn how the Italians respond when some Italians land into trouble outside the country.

Also, the Italians need to learn that India's EEZ and waters in the Indian Ocean are not playgrounds for their gunmen anymore.

Likewise, merchant ships need to learn that fishermen are not for being shot.

A lot has to be learnt,

1 decade ago
What lessons to be learnt?. The criminals will be freed soon. They will get warm welcome in their country like the one Brig. Gen. Reginald Dyer received in England after Jallianwala Bagh massacre for killing Indians.

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