Italian Pirate-Fighting Marines On Trial

Barbie Latza Nadeau

A case against two marines, accused of killing fishermen they mistook for pirates, has become an international debacle after India’s decision to try the men under anti-terrorism laws.
On February 15, 2012, Italian navy marines Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone were on lookout duty as anti-pirate armed guards aboard the Italian-flagged Enrica Lexie oil tanker as it traveled from Singapore to Egypt.  They had just entered Indian waters some 20 nautical miles off the shore of Kerala, India, when the marines say they spotted a rogue-looking 14-meter vessel called the St. Antony on a collision course heading straight towards them.

Indian waters are the third most dangerous pirate-infested seas in the world, after the coasts off Africa and Southeast Asia, and there had been a number of violent attacks in recent weeks, which is why the Enrica Lexie had sought the help of the Italian navy for protection.  The Italian marines had been trained to spot and ward off pirates and they say that the boat coming towards them fit all the characteristics.  Latorre, who was the chief sergeant of the six-member security team onboard the Enrica Lexie, fired off 12 warning rounds from his automatic weapon into the water near the boat while Girone fired off eight.

But, unbeknownst to the Italians, the men in the boat—identified as Ajesh “Pinky” Bink and Jelestine—were not pirates after all.  They were fishermen guiding a boat full of fresh tuna and ten sleeping crewmembers who had retired to the sleeping quarters below deck after a long week trawling the seas.  And the warning shots proved fatal, hitting and killing both men within a few minutes.  The fishing vessel’s captain, called Freddy, took control of the boat after the men were killed at the wheel.  He later told investigators that “it was raining bullets” as the marines kept shooting while the fishermen tried to make their escape.

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