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Outrage as two Indians die in Italian ship firing

New Delhi/Thiruvananthapuram, Feb 16 (IANS) India Thursday summoned the Italian envoy and protested over the shooting of two Indian fishermen by security officials of an Italian cargo vessel off the Kerala coast and asked Italy to cooperate with the Kerala Police.

The incident triggered a diplomatic row, with Italy differing from India's description of the events. Italy said the Italian navy personnel on board Enrica Lexie first fired warning shots after they were allegedly attacked in international waters by people on an Indian fishing vessel.

But a government source told IANS: 'There was no prior warning as reported by the crew.' The incident is being investigated by the navy, Coast Guard and Kerala Police.

Two fishermen, one from Tamil Nadu and another from Kerala, were suspected to be pirates and shot dead Wednesday evening about 14 nautical miles off Alappuzha in Kerala.

'A case will be registered against the Italian crew and the law will take its own course,' said a home ministry official.

According to the Mumbai-based Directorate-General of Shipping, the Principal Officer, Mercantile Maritime Department, Kochi, has been told to conduct a preliminary inquiry into the incident.

'It is very serious and unfortunate,' said Defence Minister A.K. Antony.

India lodged a strong protest with Italy. M. Ganapathi, secretary (west) in the external affairs ministry, met Italian ambassador Giacomo Sanfelice di Montefort and told him that the ship's captain has to cooperate with Indian officials.

The envoy promised the captain would do so.

After the meeting, the envoy said the facts of the case were yet not clear.

'We are working in very close cooperation with Indian authorities. It is in any case a very sad incident. What I want to underline is that the Italian ship moved voluntarily into the Kochi port,' he told reporters.

'The Italian Navy followed the international protocol as it was approached by a vessel which did not stop when flash lights were sent,' he said.

Enrica Lexie is now berthed off the Kochi coast.

Kerala's police chief Jacob Punnoose told IANS: 'In any country when there is a death like this, a case will be registered and the law of the land will be set in motion.'

'A team of Kerala Police has gone to the ship. There are rules also with regard to what information can be shared and what cannot be with regard to this case.'

He said an Italian official had reached Kochi and met police officials.

The Italian embassy insisted the ship was attacked and the firing was done in self-defence.

The embassy said the master of the ship was contacted by the Indian Coast Guard and asked to direct it towards the Kochi harbour. This was done.

Freddy, the boat owner, said there were 11 people on board.

'Except for the two who were shot dead, all the other nine were fast asleep. I woke up hearing sounds similar to a gunshot. I saw the two in a pool of blood. I screamed and shouted and all others also woke up, but by then it was too late,' said Freddy, who is from Tamil Nadu.

The Kerala cabinet has decided to give Rs.500,000 as compensation each to the next of kin of the two fishermen.

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