India-Italy ‘Marine’ Crisis Deepens

The ‘marines row’ between India and Italy intensifies, as Rome has decided to take the case to international arbitration. The major development took place on Friday night, with Italy formally launching international arbitration against India.

The Foreign Ministry made an official announcement in this regard almost three years after Italian marines Salvatore Girone and Massimilano Latorre had been arrested for shooting at two Indian fishermen in 2012.

Italy claims that the shooting took place in international waters and the fishermen were mistaken for pirates. However, India is of the opinion that the incident happened in Indian maritime zone and the case should be heard in an Indian court. As the Indian judicial authorities are taking time to hear the case, Rome has lost its patience and has made the unilateral move.

A senior Italian Foreign Ministry official told reporters that they made a final decision after the failure of direct negotiations between the two countries aimed at resolving the case. Meanwhile, the official admitted that the case badly affected bilateral diplomatic relations.

The official once again made it clear that the two marines were serving as part of an anti-piracy mission and the killing of innocent Indian fishermen occurred in international waters off southern India. As a result, according to him, the issue should be dealt with under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). As per UNCLOS, parties to a dispute can seek arbitration by an ad hoc panel or through the creation of a special tribunal. Other options are to seek a judgement from the International Court of Justice in The Hague or the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea at Hamburg in Germany.

The Italian ministry stated in a statement: “The decision, which Parliament had called for, was taken at the conclusion of the necessary negotiating phase made directly with India and facing the impossibility of reaching a solution to the dispute.”

Without specifying the exact procedure, the ministry said that it would request India to allow the marines to stay on their home soil pending the outcome of the arbitration procedure. Although New Delhi allowed Latorre to stay in Italy because of his poor health in 2014, Girone is staying in Italian Embassy in the Indian capital pending a trial.

As Italy planned to drag India to international arbitration, senior spokesperson of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs Vikas Swarup said: “We are aware of this development. Our legal experts are looking into it”. Swarup is sure that the move made by Rome will trigger another round of confrontation between the two countries.