HAMBURG (Reuters) - An international maritime tribunal on Monday rejected Italy’s request that India provisionally release two marines accused of killing two Indian fishermen, a setback for the Italian government after a three-year legal battle.
However the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg also ordered India to suspend legal action against the two Italians, saying an international arbitration hearing to be held in The Hague must rule on the dispute.
Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone were part of a military team on anti-pirate duty protecting an Italian oil tanker in 2012, when, they say, they mistook a fishing boat for a pirate vessel and fired warning shots. Two fishermen died.
Girone is being held in the Italian Embassy in New Delhi, forbidden by the Indian authorities from leaving the country. However, Latorre is in Italy after India allowed him to return home temporarily for medical treatment.
Rome objects to holding a trial in India, arguing that the case should be taken to arbitration under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and that the incident happened in international waters where national laws do not apply.
The Indian government wants Indian courts to try the case.
The Hamburg court decided by 15 judges’ votes to six that Italy and India should suspend all proceedings which might aggravate the dispute until the arbitration tribunal rules on the issue.
Putting a positive spin on the move, Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said it was “a useful decision” that the destiny of the marines was no longer in India’s hands.
“It will be international arbitration that judges this question,” he told reporters.
However, Infrastructure Minister Graziano Delrio, said Rome had wanted to see Girone sent home. “Italy hoped for something different,” he said.
Italy and India must submit an initial report to the Arbitration Tribunal on Sept. 24. No date has yet been set for it to begin hearings.
The fallout from the arrest of the marines has damaged wider relations between Italy and India, contributing to the collapse of a European Union-India summit planned during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to France and Germany this spring.
In April 2012, Rome paid $190,000 to each of the victims’ families as compensation. In return, the families dropped their cases against the marines, but the Indian state’s case has yet to come to trial.
Reporting by Michael Hogan; Additional reporting by Paolo Biondi; Editing by Louise Ireland and Crispian Balmer