India drops anti-piracy charges against marines

India has dropped a plan to use a tough anti-piracy law to prosecute two Italian marines who killed two fishermen, the Supreme Court heard on Monday, amid a diplomatic row.

India drops anti-piracy charges against marines
India had originally sought to prosecute the marines under the anti-piracy law. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

Attorney General Goolam Vahanvati told the court that the marines would instead be charged with unspecified offences under the country's criminal code, which could be murder.

"The honourable law minister has recorded his opinion that provisions of the SUA Act (maritime and anti-piracy act) are not attracted in this case," Vahanvati told the top court.

However the case will again be delayed while the court examines whether India's top National Investigation Agency, which usually handles matters of national security, was the right investigative body for the case.

The court hearing comes one day after Defence Minister A.K. Antony denied India was backing down over the case amid fury in Rome over delays in the prosecution and the planned use of the anti-piracy law.

"There will be no compromise. We are not going back in any way in the case. We are going ahead with the case as per Indian laws," Antony told reporters.

Italy last week recalled its ambassador to India and summoned the Indian ambassador to express concern at delays in court proceedings in a case that erupted in 2012.

Marines Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone are accused of shooting the fishermen off the coast of Kerala while they were serving as security guards on an Italian-flagged cargo ship.

The pair, who have been given bail and are staying at the Italian embassy in Delhi, say they mistook the fishing boat for a pirate vessel and only fired warning shots.

India had originally sought to prosecute the marines under the anti-piracy law, but it said the marines would not face the death penalty if convicted because prosecutors would not use that clause in the legislation.

Italy insists the pair should be tried on home soil since the shootings involved an Italian-flagged vessel in what Rome insists were international waters.

India asserts the killings took place in waters under its jurisdiction.

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Italian marine gets six more months at home

India's top court on Monday granted an Italian marine detained over the 2012 killing of two fishermen off the coast of Kerala another six months at home to recover from a medical condition.

Italian marine gets six more months at home
Italian marine Massimiliano Lattore has been granted six more months at home. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

Massimiliano Lattore and his fellow marine Salvatore Girone shot the fishermen while serving as part of an anti-piracy mission off southern India in 2012.

The incident led to a diplomatic row between Italy and India with both marines barred from leaving India pending trial.

Lattore was finally allowed to travel back to his country last year for what Italian media reports described as a minor procedure to correct a congenital heart disease.

In April this year, he had sought and received a three-month stay from returning to India.

The Supreme Court on Monday granted him six more months in Italy for recovery while accepting his fresh application for an extension of the stay on his return order.

The other marine, Girone, is living at Italy's embassy in New Delhi.

The trial against both marines remains pending at a special court in New Delhi over confusion which agency would investigate their case. It had not opened the case when the pair was in India.

The Italian government in June announced that it had launched international arbitration proceedings in the case.

The unilateral move by the Italian government was a result of failure of direct negotiations with its Indian counterpart.

On Monday, the Italian government requested the top court in New Delhi to not hear the criminal trial of the marines as it wanted arbitration on the matter.

The Indian government told the court that it had received an arbitration notice from the Italian government and would respond to it shortly.

Ever since the incident India has insisted that the fate of the two marines must be resolved in its courts because its citizens were shot in its territorial waters.

Italy's government has argued that the shooting occurred in international waters off southern India and should be dealt under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).