No death penalty for Italian marines as anti-piracy charges dropped

Clarifying its stand in the Italian marines case to the Supreme Court today, the centre said the two marines would not be prosecuted under the anti-piracy law exempting them from death penalty.

The case pertains to the shooting of two Indian fishermen by the marines on board Italian ship Enrica Lexie off the Kerala coast on 15 February.

According to the two officers, who were arrested on 19 February 2012, they mistook the fishing craft to be a pirate craft.

The apex court had also agreed to examine the Italian government's plea challenging the National Investigation Agency's jurisdiction to probe the marines' case.

On Saturday, the law ministry had concurred with the external affairs ministry on non-applicability of anti-piracy law that had been strongly contested by Italy.

Sources said the law ministry was of the view that the Suppression of Unlawful Acts (SUA) against the safety of maritime navigation should not apply in the case of the two Italian marines.

The government had been asked by the Supreme Court to sort out differences on applicability of SUA.

During the last hearing on 18 February, attorney general GE Vahanvati had told the Supreme Court that the government was awaiting the opinion of the law ministry on the issue.

Italy has meanwhile, demanded closure of the case saying without SUA charges the NIA had no jurisdiction to probe the case.

According to the apex court, it would examine if NIA or some other agency would handle the probe.

The top court has referred Italy's plea for quashing of the case to a larger three-judge bench.

The law ministry's view, which concurred with that of the external affairs ministry, was conveyed to the home ministry.

Meanwhile, the Indian government had confirmed that its embassy in Rome had received threats including a bullet protesting delays in the case of two Italian marines facing trial in India for the alleged murder of two Indian fishermen two years ago.

Gazzetta del Sud online quoted Indian government spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin as saying Italian authorities had been asked to ensure the protection of diplomatic staff.

He added the Indian government was sure the Italian government would guarantee the safety of Indian diplomats. He added, diplomatic channels were open at the highest level between the two countries, despite Italy's decision to recall its ambassador to protest the delay in the drawn-out affair.