Court allows Italian vessel to sail out, with riders
Kochi, March 29, 2012
The Kerala High Court on Thursday allowed Italian ship M.T. Enrica Lexie,
detained off Kochi in the wake of the killing of two fishermen by marines on
board, to sail out of the Indian waters and continue its voyage.
Justice P.S. Gopinathan directed the police to permit the ship to sail, on
its agent furnishing a bond for Rs. 3 crore before the Deputy Conservator,
Cochin Port Trust, and an undertaking that the vessel, master, and the crew
would be produced as and when required by the Centre, Deputy Conservator,
and Mercantile Marine Department (MMD).
The court passed the verdict while allowing a writ petition filed by the
agent of the ship seeking permission of the court to continue its voyage. It
also made it clear that the verdict would not interfere with the course of
investigation now under way.
The clarification came when Advocate General K.P. Dandapani submitted that
if the other marines on the ship were found involved in the case on getting
the Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) report on the use of firearms, the
police had to take them into custody.
Opposing the release, the Advocate General said further investigation would
have to be conducted if the report of the FSL went against the two
marines. Therefore, he sought the permission of the court to take the marines into
custody if needed.
The judge pointed out that it was pertinent to note that the investigation
officer had not seized the vessel when the writ petition was filed before
the High Court on March 9.However; the police filed the seizure report only
on March 26 before the magistrate court concerned. The court observed that
the Supreme Court had time and again cautioned that vessels and vehicles
seized in connection with the investigation should not unnecessarily be
detained, causing loss to the owner of the vessel or vehicle. Besides, as
alleged by the agent, the vessel had been anchoring off Kochi since February 15.
In these circumstances and in view of the apex court observations, it would
be appropriate to release the vessel, the court observed.
The petitioner pointed out that the customs and MMD had granted their
sanction for allowing the ship to continue its voyage. Besides, the police had
also completed its investigation. The MMD said in its statement that the
ship need not be detained as all evidence had been collected during an inquiry
ordered by the Director General of Shipping. The petitioner also said that
the master and the crew had cooperated when the investigation agency
searched the vessel and seized arms and ammunition of the naval personnel.
A bank guarantee of Rs. 3 crore ordered by the High Court in two
compensation suits had also been furnished. The authorities were wilfully delaying
clearance for the ship to sail out, the petitioner alleged.