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IMO refuses to intervene in row over killing of fishermen

Friday, 24 February 2012 | 11:00
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has declined to intervene in the diplomatic row that started because of the killing of two Indian fishermen by Italian marines, saying its guidance pertains only to private armed security on ships and not government naval personnel.
The two marines, employed with the Italian government, were part of a security detachment assigned to protect the Italian merchant ship Enrica Lexie from pirate attacks in the Indian Ocean.
The marines claim they shot the fishermen mistaking them for pirates.
The incident, which occurred off the coast of Kerala on 15 February, does not fall under the purview of the global maritime regulator, Lee Adamson, head, public information services, IMO, said in an emailed response.
“Any loss of life at sea is regrettable. However, we are unable to offer you any comment on the circumstances surrounding this incident. It seems, from the facts that have emerged thus far, that this is not something covered by any IMO measure,” Adamson said.
The killings have blown into a diplomatic row, with Italy claiming India does not have jurisdiction over the matter as the incident occurred beyond its territorial waters, and India insisting that it does—because the fishermen were on an Indian vessel. The two naval guards have been arrested.
Italy has sent its junior foreign minister Staffan De Mistura to India to deal with the matter. On Wednesday, the Italian government and the two naval guards moved the Kerala high court seeking quashing of the charges against the marines.
The petitioners submitted that Kerala police have no authority to conduct an investigation in the case and courts in India have no jurisdiction on the matter.
“The guidance (to shipowners/operators) adopted by IMO deals with privately contracted armed security personnel (PCASP), not with the presence of government military personnel on board merchant ships,” Adamson said, adding, “IMO does not address the concept of ‘rules of engagement’ as this is a military concept, outside the organization’s remit.”
But he said that the regulator neither endorses nor institutionalizes the carriage of firearms, or the use of privately contracted armed security personnel on board merchant ships, and that it “is scheduling a high-level segment on the opening day of the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) to discuss the issue of arms on board ships”.
MSC is IMO’s highest technical body, and is scheduled to meet in London between 16 and 25 May.
Piracy will be on the agenda, Adamson said.
IMO, in September, issued revised interim guidance to shipowners, operators and masters on the use of PCASP in high-risk areas following demand from maritime nations for allowing armed guards on-board merchant ships to prevent attacks by Somali pirates.
The guidance states that a ship’s master or captain will be in command and will retain the overriding authority on-board. “PCASP should be fully aware that their primary function is the prevention of boarding (by pirates) using the minimal force necessary to do so,” it states.
The guidance adds that private maritime security companies, or PMSCs, on-board merchant ships should require their personnel to take all reasonable steps to avoid the use of force.
It adds that PMSCs should require their personnel to not use firearms “except in self-defence or defence of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury, or to prevent the perpetration of a particularly serious crime involving a grave threat to life”.
“The principal aim behind putting armed guards on board ships is to deter pirates from attacking ships rather than engaging in shooting at pirates,” said Peter Cook, founding member of the London-based Security Association for the Maritime Industry, an independent trade association for maritime security companies with 119 members.
Cook, a former Royal Marines officer, said shipowners have to “review what their policy will be in the future on putting armed guards on-board ships” in the wake of the killing of the fishermen.
“One has to look at the big picture. While the incident in India was extremely regrettable, one has to bear in mind that a ship with armed guards has (not) yet been successfully hijacked by pirates.”
Source: Live Mint
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