Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In the 2012 incident wherein two fishermen were killed while fishing off the coast of Kerala after allegedly two Italian Military Naval officials fired at them from a passing ship, the bench of Indira Banerjee and MR Shah*, JJ has closed all the proceedings against the marines in India including criminal proceedings in exercise of powers under Article 142 of the Constitution of India.

Criminal proceedings were initiated against the marines after the Kerala police apprehended them and two months after the incident, the Republic of Italy made ex-gratia payment of compensation to the legal heirs of the deceased persons. The vessel, from which the shots were fired, was allowed to sail away, subject to certain terms and conditions along with all 24 crew members, only after the order passed by the Supreme Court in May, 2012. The unfortunate incident had occurred in February, 2012.

Important facts that persuaded the Court to close the proceedings 

  • the Arbitral Tribunal constituted under Annex VII of UNCLOS has delivered its award dated 21.05.2020 under which the Republic of Italy has agreed to pay the compensation of Rs. Ten crores, over and above the amount of ex-gratia amount already paid
  • the Arbitral Tribunal has also duly recorded Republic of Italy’s commitment that following the award Italy will resume its criminal investigation into the incident of 15.02.2012.

As an aftermath of the Arbitral Tribunal’s award, the Republic of Italy deposited the said amount of Rs. Ten Crores and the State of Kerala as well as the heirs of the deceased fishermen and even the owner of the boat which was damaged agreed to accept the award.

The Court was, hence, of the opinion that

“…the amount of compensation of Rs. Ten Crores over and above the ex-gratia amount of compensation already paid to the heirs of the deceased fishermen offered and deposited by the Republic of Italy, deposited pursuant to award dated 21.05.2020 passed by the Arbitral Tribunal can be said to be a reasonable amount of compensation and can be said to be in the interest of heirs of the deceased, we are of the view that this is a fit case to close all the proceedings in India including criminal proceedings in exercise of powers under Article 142 of the Constitution of India.”

It was hence, directed that Rs. Ten Crores now lying with the Supreme Court Registry be transferred to the High Court of Kerala, out of which Rupees Four Crores be paid to the heirs of each deceased and Rs. Two crores be paid to the owner of the boat – St. Antony.

However, the Court clarified that while disbursing the amount of compensation to the heirs of the deceased fishermen, i.e, Rs. Four Crores to the dependents/heirs of each deceased, their interest is also required to be protected so that the amount of compensation paid to them is not frittered away, by investing the amount in the name of the dependents/heirs of each deceased in a Fixed Deposit in a nationalised bank for some time and they will be paid the periodical interest accrued thereon.

The Court, hence, asked the Chief Justice of the Kerala High Court to nominate a Judge to pass appropriate order of disbursement/investment of the amount to be paid to the heirs of each deceased (Rupees Four Crores each) so as to protect the interest of the heirs and ensure that the compensation is duly received by the heirs and not diverted/misappropriated. The order of disbursement/investment is to be passed after hearing the heirs of each deceased and appropriate order be passed, protecting the best interest of the heirs of each deceased.

[Massimilano Latorre v. Union of India, SPECIAL LEAVE PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 20370 OF 2012, decided on 15.06.2021]


*Judgment by: Justice MR Shah

Know Thy Judge | Justice M. R. Shah

For Petitioner(s): Mr. Suhail Dutt, Sr. Adv.

Mr. Diljeet titus, Adv.

Mr. Jagjit Singh Chhabra, AOR

Mr. Ujjwal Sharma, Adv.

Mr. Baljit Singh Kalha, Adv.

Mr. Ninad Laud, Adv.

Mr. Akshat Bhatnagar, Adv.

Ms. Ananyaa Mazumdar, Adv.

Mr. Saksham Maheshwari, Adv.

For Respondent(s): Mr. Tushar Mehta, SG

Mr. Aman Lekhi, ASG

Mr. S.A. Haseeb, Adv.

Mr. Suhashini Sen, Adv.

Mr. Rajat Nair, Adv.

Mr. B. V. Balaram Das, AOR

 Mr. G. Prakash, AOR

Mr. Jishnu M.L., Adv.

Ms. Priyanka Prakash, Adv.

Ms. Beena Prakash, Adv.

 Mr. C. Unnikrishnan, Adv.

Mr. A. Karthik, AOR

Ms. Smrithi Suresh, Adv.

Ms. Sreepriya K., Adv.

Mr. Arsh Khan, Adv.

Case BriefsInternational Courts

Permanent Court of Arbitration: In an unanimous decision by the Arbitral Tribunal concerning the “Enrica Lexie Incident”, it was held that Italy has breached Article 87, Paragraph 1, sub-paragraph (a) and Article 90 of the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) thereby constituting adequate satisfaction for the injury to India’s non-material interests. It was further held that as a result of the breach, India is entitled to payment of compensation in connection with loss of life, physical harm, material damage to property (including to the ‘St. Antony’) and moral harm suffered by the captain and other crew members of the ‘St. Antony’, which by its nature cannot be made good through restitution.

As per the facts, on 15-02-2012, two Indian fishermen were killed off the coast of Kerala, aboard the St. Antony. India alleged that the two Italian marines aboard the Italian-flagged commercial oil tanker MV Enrica Lexie killed the fishermen. The Indian Navy then intercepted MV Enrica Lexie and detained the two Italian marines, therefore giving rise to the instant dispute between India and Italy.

Italy contended before the Tribunal that by directing and inducing the Enrica Lexie to change course and proceed into India’s territorial sea through a ruse, as well as by interdicting the Enrica Lexie and escorting her to Kochi, India violated Italy’s freedom of navigation, in breach of UNCLOS Article 87(1)(a), and Italy’s exclusive jurisdiction over the Enrica Lexie, in breach of Article 92 of UNCLOS and abused its right to seek Italy’s cooperation in the repression of piracy, in breach of Article 300 read in conjunction with Article 100 of UNCLOS. It was further contended that by initiating criminal proceedings against the Italian marines, India violated Italy’s exclusive right to institute penal or disciplinary proceedings against the Marines, in breach of Article 97(1) of UNCLOS. The Indian side however contended that by firing at St. Anthony and killing the fishermen aboard that vessel, Italy violated India’s sovereign rights under Article 56 of UNCLOS and India’s freedom and right of navigation under Articles 87 and 90 of UNCLOS.     

The Tribunal comprising of Vladimir Golitsyn, J. (President), Jin-Hyun Paik, Patrick Robinson, JJ., Prof. Francesco Francioni and Dr  Pemmaraju Sreenivasa Rao (Arbitrators) perused the facts and the contentions put forth by the Countries. It was observed that the instant dispute involved the interpretation/ application of the UNCLOS. Determining that the Arbitral Tribunal has jurisdiction over the dispute, it was unanimously held that India’s counter-claims are admissible and that Italy has violated aforementioned provisions of the UNCLOS. However with a ratio of 3:2, the Tribunal also held that the Marines- Chief Master Sergeant Massimiliano Latorre and Sergeant Salvatore Girone, are entitled to immunity in relation to the acts that they committed during the incident, and that India is precluded from exercising its criminal jurisdiction over the Marines. Taking note of Italy’s commitment to resume criminal investigations into the St. Anthony firing incident, the Tribunal directed India to take the necessary steps in order to cease the exercise its criminal jurisdiction over the Marines. [Italian Republic v.  Republic of India, PCA Case No. 2015-28, decided on 02-07-2020] 

Case BriefsInternational Courts

International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea: In the battle between Panama and Italy concerning Panama’s claim for compensation regarding loss of it’s Marine Vessel “Norstar”, Italy was found to have committed a wrongful act in breach of Article 87 Para 1 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The Judgment was given by a bench of Jin-Hyun Paik, President; and Ndiaye, Jesus, Cot, Lucky, Pawlak, Yanai, Kateka, Hoffman, Gao, Bouguetaia, Kelly, Kulyk, Gomez-Robledo, Heidar, Cabello, Chadha, Kittichaisaree, Kolodkin, Lijnzaad, JJ., and Treves and Eiriksson, Ad-hoc JJ.

Factual background

Marine Vessel “Norstar”, an oil tanker flying the flag of Panama, wasowned by Inter Marine & Co. AS, a Norwegian-registered company. From 1994 to 1998, M/V Norstar was engaged in supplying gasoil to mega yachts in an area described by Panama as — “international waters beyond the Territorial Sea of Italy. France and Spain”. The same area was described by Italy as — “off the coasts of the France, Italy and Spain”. The Italian-registered company. Rossmare International SAS, acted as “bunkering brokers” therefor.

In 1997, the Italian fiscal police initiated an investigation into Rossmare International and the activities of Norstar, which revealed that Norstar was involved in the business of selling the fuel purchased in Italy in the exemption of tax duties to a clientele of Italian and other EU leisure boats in international waters off the coasts of the Italian city of Sanremo. On 11-08-1998, the Public Prosecutor of the Coast of Savona, Italy issued a Decree of Seizure against Norstar. Following the request for assistance, Spanish authorities in Palma de Mallorca seized Norstar on 25-9-1998. Criminal proceedings were also instituted against eight individuals including the President and Managing Director of Inter Marine & Co., the captain of Norstar and the owner of Rossmare International.

By a Judgment dated 14-3-2003, the Court of Savona acquitted all the persons and also ordered the revocation of Norstar’s seizure and it’s release. The ship-owners were called upon to take possession of Norstar by that was not done. A document withdrawing seizure and custody of Norstar was issued by the authorities, which Panama states, was never informed to the ship-owners. Ultimately, in 2015, Norstar was publicly auctioned and was purchased by a company dedicated to waste management, to convert Norstar into scrap.

Upshot of submissions on behalf of Panama

(i) By acting in the matter as aforesaid, Italy prevented Panama’s ability to navigate the high seas and conduct legitimate commercial activity. By filing charges against persons having interest in the Panamanian vessel, Italy violated Article 87 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

(ii)Italy acted in a manner which constitutes an abuse of right under Article 300.

(iii) Claim of compensation amounting to over USD 27 millions plus interest and the legal costs derived from the case.

Upshot of submissions on behalf of Italy

(i)All of Panama’s claims should be dismissed, either because of lack of Tribunal’s jurisdiction or because of non-admissibility, or on merits.

(ii)Claim of legal costs derived from the case.

Judgment of the Tribunal

(a) Whether the Decree of Seizure and arrest of M/V Norstar constitute a violation of Article 87 (freedom of the high seas) of the Convention?

Considered: If the Decree and its execution concern only alleged crimes committed in the territory of Italy. Article 87 is not applicable. However, if they concern activities conducted by Norstar on the high seas, as maintained by Panama, Article 87 may be applicable.

Held: Decree of Seizure indicate that it concerns not only alleged crimes committed in the territory of Italy but also bunkering activities conducted by Norstar on the high seas. Article 87 of the Convention proclaims that the high seas are open to all States. It also proclaims the freedom of the high seas and provides for the obligation of due regard in its exercise. Bunkering of leisure boats carried out by Norstar on the high sea falls within the freedom of navigation under Article 87. Italy, through the decree of Seizure Norstar, the request for its execution, and the arrest and detention of the vessel, breached Article 87 Para 1 of the Convention.

(b) Panama’s claims concerning Article 300 (good faith and abuse of rights) of the Convention.

Considered: For a breach of Article 300, Panama not only has to prove that Article 87 has been violated but that it has been violated in breach of good of faith, as bad faith cannot be presumed and has to be established.

Held: After discussing the timing of the arrest of Norstar, the location of arrest, execution of the Decree of Seizure and contradictory reasons to justify it, lack of communication, withholding of information, duration of detention and maintenance of Norstar, the Tribunal found that Panama could not establish the link between its claim concerning Article 300 and the breach of Article 87. Hence, concluded, Italy did not violate Article 300.

(c) Repatriation

Considered: Italy, as the State responsible for an internationally wrongful act, is under an obligation to compensate for damage caused by its breach of Article 87 Para 1 of the Convention.

Held: Owing to the loss of Norstar, restitution in kind was materially impossible in the present case. Panama was entitled to compensation for damage suffered by it as well as for damage or other loss suffered by Norstar, including all persons involved or interested in its operation. After discussing the causal link between the damage and the wrongful act of Italy, interruption of the causal link, duty to mitigate damage, it was concluded that the amount of USD 285,000 shall be compensated to Panama for the loss of M/V Norstar, along with the interest at the rate of 2.7182% compounded annually and payable from 25-9-1998 until the date of the present Judgment. [Panama v. Italy (M/V Norstar Case), 2019 SCC OnLine ITLOS 1, decided on 10-04-2019]