italian marines enrica lexie

The two Italian marines, Massimiliano Latorre (L) and Salvatore Girone, shown in Kochi, India on Dec. 18, 2012. REUTERS/Sivaram V

Jan. 18 (Bloomberg) — Two Italian marines charged with killing fishermen they suspected of being pirates can be put on trial in India, the country’s top court ruled, a defeat for defense lawyers who argued any prosecution should take place overseas.

Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone will be tried in a specially convened court in New Delhi, according to a ruling by a three-judge panel led by Chief Justice Altamas Kabir. The Indian government will be consulted on the setting up of the court, the judges said.

The prosecution of the marines is the first attempt to hold armed maritime guards accountable for the deaths of innocent people in an anti-piracy operation. The marines were acting as guards on the Italian-flagged Enrica Lexie tanker as it sailed to Egypt from Singapore, a route that includes crossing the Indian Ocean, where Somali pirates operate.

Ajeesh Pink, 19, and the fishing boat’s first mate, who used a single name, Valantine, 44, were killed in waters off the southern state of Kerala. When the shooting started in the middle of the afternoon on Feb. 15, most of the 11-member crew were asleep in preparation for a night of fishing for seer fish, J. Freddy, the boat’s 30-year-old owner, said in an interview with Bloomberg published in November.

The marines’ arrest triggered a diplomatic rift between the Italian and Indian governments as they presented different versions of the attack. Italy has argued that the men shot the two fishermen in self-defense and that the marines should be tried in their own country because the incident occurred in international waters outside of India’s jurisdiction.

Ferrari SpA, the Italian sports car maker, even weighed in, having two of its cars carry the flag of the Italian navy during the Oct. 28 Formula One grand-prix race in New Delhi.

Maritime piracy costs the global economy an estimated $7 billion in 2011, according to the Oceans Beyond Piracy, a project of the Broomfield, Colorado-based nonprofit One Earth Future Foundation. Somali pirates’ attacks on shipping plunged last year to the lowest since at least 2007 as increased use of armed guards and naval intervention deterred incidents, the London-based International Maritime Bureau said Jan. 16.

- Pratap Patnaik and Andrew MacAskill, Copyright 2013 Bloomberg.

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