Indian police detain Italian navy security guards

Members of the Italian navy are taken for interrogation by the Indian police in the southern state of Kerala on 19 February 2012 The two marines were detained on Sunday

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Indian police have detained two members of an Italian navy security team over the fatal shooting of two fishermen from an Italian oil tanker.

The incident took place off the coast of the southern state of Kerala last Wednesday.

Italian officials said the Indian fishing boat had behaved aggressively and ignored warning shots.

They said they opened fire, mistaking the fishermen for pirates. India said the fishermen were unarmed.

The incident has sparked a major diplomatic row between the two countries, with Indian police opening a murder enquiry into the deaths.

Indian Defence Minister AK Antony has described the killings as "very serious" and an "unfortunate incident".

The Italian ambassador in Delhi was summoned by the foreign ministry on Thursday over the shooting.

Differences remain

"We have taken two suspects to the land. They will be taken to Kollam town by the investigating team and produced in a local court there after completing formalities," Inspector General of Police in Kerala K Padmakumar said on Sunday evening.

A police team went to the Italian oil tanker MV Enrica Lexie along with Giampaolo Cutillo, the Italian consul general in Mumbai, and detained the marines after getting the go-ahead from Delhi.

Indian warship alongside the Italian cargo vessel MV Enrica Lexie is anchored off the port of Kochi in Kerala

Police said they had questioned the captain of the vessel and five others.

Italy has insisted that its personnel cannot be charged under Indian law, but the two sides have so far been unable to resolve their differences.

The MV Enrica Lexie is anchored off the port of Kochi in Kerala.

Officials said the vessel was on its way from Singapore to Egypt, with a crew of 34, including 19 Indians.

Indian officials say they are surprised at the shooting, maintaining that the fishermen did nothing to threaten the Italian ship.

The Italians say the crew members fired in self-defence - after initially firing warning shots - because they feared their vessel was about to be attacked.

A senior official in Kerala, PG Thomas, said the attack was unwarranted as there were "no weapons on the trawler".

Indian officials said nine of the 11 fishermen in the trawler were asleep and the two victims were steering it when the incident happened.

Following the incident, the Indian coastguard sent two boats and an aircraft to intercept the ship.

The Kerala state government has authorised a payment of 500,000 rupees ($10,125; £6,450) each to the dead fishermen's families.

Piracy has emerged as a major threat to merchant ships in the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea, with Somali pirates hijacking ships and their crews for ransom.

But there have been fewer attacks recently, partly because more armed guards are now deployed on board ships.

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