You'll remember that the armed guards on the Italian ship ENRICA LEXIE, who were Italian military personnel, had shot two Indian fishermen, mistaking them for pirates. Indian authorities arrested the officers accused in the shooting. In the subsequent dustup between Italy and India, ENRICA LEXIE's location at the time of the incident - inside or outside Indian waters - has been argued. Italy has claimed that the incident took place in international waters, and that the officers should be tried in Italy. But India has held the men for trial in Indian courts, saying that the ship was in Indian waters at the time. Because the VDR data was missing from ENRICA LEXIE's data recorder or "black box", neither claim could be verified.
According to this report from gCaptain (or click on the photo to go to that report) the Italian government, in what they specified was an "act of generosity" - not a payment of damages - has agreed with the lawyers representing the relatives of the slain fishermen to pay each of the fishermen's families 10 million rupees (about $192,000US).
The families have accepted this settlement; but the Indian government still maintains that the arrested officers should be tried in India. The two governments will continue diplomatic negotiations, but the settlement with the fishermen's relatives may relieve some of the tensions surrounding the case.
As noted in the other stories referred to above, this case illuminates a serious downside of the use of armed guards as a primary anti-piracy measure. In a video posted on YouTube recently, featuring armed guards repelling a pirate attack on an unnamed ship (click on "Pirates Up Ante" in the Categories list), it looks as if the guards went straight to shooting as the skiff approached, without any intermediate measures - at least, no other measures were shown in the video.
Similarly, the guards on ENRICA LEXIE seem to have taken no other actions to warn off the suspected "skiff" that turned out to be an innocent fishing boat, simply firing on them when they got "too close." In the event, the fishermen were probably fatigued and didn't understand that they were being challenged. Had they been given the means to understand that, they might be alive today, the guards would not be under arrest, and Italy and India would not be embroiled in a bitter controversy.
So an important element in using lethal force in protecting the ship from pirates, is also protecting the company, the ship and the individuals involved from prosecution after the fact.
This can be addressed using a layered defense incorporating best practices as outlined by IMO and national authorities; by having and practicing a plan of defense; and by giving ample warnings to the suspected pirate skiff.
Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRAD) can overcome the noisy environment in the skiff, where gunshots may not be noticed until someone is hit; and they can be used to transmit warning messages, too. A non-lethal physical defense, such as using a water cannon (click "Piracy Water Cannon" in the Categories list) could be part of a graduated response prior to going to live shooting, when a boat is close aboard. Using guns should be the last resort, and demonstrable as such.
An article on the IDGA website (free account signup required) gives a very thorough treatment of the subject.
Being able to show that measures like these were taken could go a long way toward defending the company and men involved in a court case such as this one. And it goes without saying that crucial evidence, such as the VDR data, should be preserved.
Are you involved in these issues for your company - on the ship, or in the office? Please express your point of view in the Comments!