02/17/2012, 00.00
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Kerala: the fishermen killed by Italian marines were Catholic

Soldiers mistook them for pirates. The other nine members of the crew are unharmed. Italy's ambassador to India says the incident was a "tragic error" but adds the fishing boat took a "hostile posture". The Indian Navy says no weapons were on board. The vice president of the Bishops' Conference of Kerala calls for compassion. "Such things should never happen again."

Trivandrum (AsiaNews) - The two fishermen killed by Italian marines off the coast of Kerala were Catholic. The Italian soldiers were on board of an Italian oil tanker, the MV Enrica Lexie. The circumstances of the incident continue to be murky. Italian authorities called the deaths a "tragic error". The San Marco Regiment riflemen mistook the fishing trawler for a pirate ship. The Indian Coastguard and Navy want to question the captain and crew of the Italian cargo ship, saying they failed to respect standard procedures. Early reports indicate the fishing boat was not carrying weapons. The other fishermen, all Catholic, are unharmed. The incident occurred on Wednesday.

"People are really worried," said Francis Kallarakkal, archbishop of Verapoly and vice president of the Bishops' Conference of Kerala. His heart goes out to the families of the dead and the survivors.

"People read the news in the papers but everything is unclear. They wonder how such things can happen," the prelate added.

Two fishermen are dead, one from the Diocese of Trivandrum (capital of Kerala) and the other from the Diocese of Kellam.

"Their bishops visited their respective families to express their closeness and solidarity. I pray for them and express all my compassion."

Summoned by the Indian foreign minister, the Italian Ambassador to India Giacomo Sanfelice di Monteforte called the incident "very sad", but defended the marines on the Enrica Lexie. According to him, the fishing boat failed to respond to warning signals and adopted a "hostile posture, typical of pirates. "

Kerala authorities have set up an endowment for the families of the deceased of INR 500,000 (US$ 10,000).

Events that led to incident remain unclear. "It was foolhardy," the archbishop said. "Piracy does exist but so do laws that regulate what can and cannot be done in international waters. Before firing on another ship, all verifications must be done. We are talking about human beings. One must deal with them with compassion. Such things should never happen again." (GM)

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