Monday, April 16, 2012

The Italian Tanker Is Still Held In South India Pending… Not Clear Precisely What

Posted by Peter Quennell

Our previous post described an Italian tanker held and two Italian soldiers in custody for shooting two Indian fishermen they thought were pirates.

Several times since. it seemed that whatever evidence can be assembled would be unveiled preparatory to a trial, the Italian crew would explain fully what happened, the soldiers might be charged, and the ship released to go on its way once the Italian owners paid a large bond - which, a while back, they did.

But lawyers acting for the family of one of the fishermen at the last moment sued to stop the ship on the point of leaving because they claimed they did not trust the owners to pay up - even despite the bond having been lodged in the amount (30 million rupees) that the family itself had demanded.

Now tempers seem to be rising in all directions, and as Sreedhar Pillai observes it is not simply Italy v India.

What has been most surprising is the appalling way both countries have handled the sensitive issue, each one not without its own hidden compulsions, and the public stance each country was obliged to take.

For the new Italian Prime minister Mario Monti , there were more compelling matters to attend… However the way the Italians have come out without a convincing and straightforward explanation of what happened has not helped the matter or enabled the Indians to react helpfully to solve the issue.

Besides, the Italian authorities have also failed to grasp the political compulsions under which the Indian government had to act in this matter.

For a start, Kerala, which is the last place people still believe in communism, has a party which lost the recent election with slim margin and has an interest to politicize every issue in order to win a crucial local election held in March. The ruling congress party with slim majority and allegations of corruption with the central government which they lead couldn’t afford to let the legal path take its own course.

That Kerala has a sizable Catholic population didn’t help, with Kerala Bishops facing accusation of taking up for a Catholic foreign country.

Although never mentioned publicly, the most sensitive reason for the stiff Indian stance is nothing but the Italian origin of Sonia Gandhi, presiding over the Congress Party, currently ruling India and several states including Kerala as the major coalition partner.

Hmmm. So in the Italian media one can now find hard comments like “the ship was trying to avoid piracy, but seems to have wandered into it anyway” and in the Indian media one can find comments ranging from “hang the murderers” to “the lawyers for the family are being opportunist”.

Today it is announced that the soldiers are remanded without charges for yet another 14 days. Meanwhile the owners of the Enrica Lexie have sued at the Indian Supreme Court level to get their ship back.

We may hear whether this is agreed to tomorrow. Sadly, the real pirates at the root of all this must be laughing.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 04/16/12 at 04:07 PM in The legal followupsThe wider contextsItalian context


So the politics here seems to be for the lefties in Kerala State to take the National Congress Party down a peg. Glad somebody finally spelled that out. Maybe our poster Chami will add more.

Here is Wikipedia on Sonia Gandhi.  Her husband Rajiv reluctantly got into Indian national politics (he was a pilot) after his younger brother Sanjay died in a plane crash. After Rajiv was assassinated in 1992 she in turn reluctantly got into politics. She is the chairperson of the Congress party but consistently refuses to become prime minister.

I happened to shake her hand and her husband’s, not officially. Wife and I were looking around the large pretty park in front of the White House one Sunday morning in spring 1991 when a helicopter landed and some limos drove up. Sonia and her husband hopped out of a limo and shook the hands of the half dozen watching, us included.  Classy and it left a good impression. The PM of over a billion people.

Then they took off. He was killed quite soon after. Maybe too nice, really, to survive unscathed in large-country politics.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 04/16/12 at 05:07 PM | #

There is new news today. Sorry I don’t have time right now to fully scan it. Maybe someone could help. This is what I picked up at a glance.

There has been a procession in Rome in support of the marines and Italian opinion is hardening that India is acting unreasonably.  The Indian embassy in Rome seems to have been trying something subversive to get dirt on the marines to bolster their case. 

The G8 seems likely to support Italy as the incident was in international waters and only the nationality of the ship (in this case Italy) has the right to investigate and take legal action. That is under very long established maritime law and matters especially in fighting piracy.

The US in particular is adamant that no other nation puts on trial their troops and there are two recent cases involving Italy where the US has stuck to its guns.  Presumably Italy will now rethink its stance on those cases.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 04/17/12 at 04:51 PM | #

Lol got to love the Huff Puff for not getting anything right!  Those were not Italian soldiers demonstrating, but members of Casa Pound Italia.

As for the rest of the article…no comment. 

The procession in Rome is set for May 12 from what I have read. No procession today, that I know of.

I also have read about the Indian embassy, looking for information AND a Beretta Arx-160 assault rifle and ammunition. Hmm, makes one wonder.

Posted by Miriam on 04/17/12 at 10:13 PM | #

Probably the hostage crisis was the cause of the delay. Now that the hostages are released the two governments will make some reasonable effort to get their attention back to the older crisis. We all believe that the hostage crisis needed the full attention.

Posted by chami on 04/19/12 at 05:28 PM | #

Well done Chami. I think you hit the nail on the head. This crisis could explain why the layers of government would need to stand firm at lreast for a while.

This hostage crisis is hardly on the media radar in the US and I have not caught it yet on the BBC. But it sure is a difficult situation and must dominate the news over there.

In an area in eastern India south of Calcutta a guerrilla group had kidnapped two Italians (now released, after a ransom was paid) and a rival group kidnapped a politician.

Various prisoners from the two groups are being sprung, which can only be bad news for the government and soldiers down the road. But it seems hard to see what else could have been done.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 04/19/12 at 05:53 PM | #

Hi Matteo. We do have an expanding Italian readership which includes media and officialdom.

Forgive us for not sharing their contact details (we dont share yours either) but if you want to write a statement in Italian we can post it for you on the Italian page.

Also we can email your messages on, though the Italian readers are a savvy crowd and mainly playing catchup after they thought Massei had put the case to rest.

Hellman is coming in for some heat and the universal mood is that this is what Cassation is for.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 04/19/12 at 06:38 PM | #

End of June now and the state of Kerala still seems to be intent on hijacking India’s foreign policy.

Very good analysis in the Hindu (or so it seems to me, Chami may differ) that this should be worked out in terms of international law and bilateral agreements between New Delhi and Rome.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 06/29/12 at 07:07 PM | #

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