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Indian Case Summary

Republic Of Italy Thr. Ambassador … vs Union Of India & Ors on 4 September, 2012 – Case Summary

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In the case of the Republic of Italy Thr. Ambassador vs Union of India & Ors on 4 September 2012, the Supreme Court of India was called upon to adjudicate a dispute involving international law, maritime jurisdiction, and the rights and responsibilities of sovereign nations.

Facts of the Case

The case arose from an incident that occurred on 15th February 2012, off the coast of Kerala, India. An Italian vessel, the M.V. Enrica Lexie, was transiting in international waters when it encountered an Indian fishing vessel, St. Antony. Mistaking the fishing vessel for a pirate ship, the Italian vessel opened fire, resulting in the death of two Indian fishermen.

The Italian vessel was part of a military deployment under the Italian Government Decree 107 of 2011, which was enacted to counter piracy and ensure the freedom of navigation of merchant shipping. The decree allowed for the deployment of Italian Military Navy Contingents on Italian vessels flying the Italian flag.

Issues Raised

The primary issue in this case was the jurisdiction over the incident. The Italian government argued that since the incident occurred in international waters, it should be governed by international law and the jurisdiction should lie with Italy, the flag state of the vessel involved. On the other hand, the Indian government contended that the incident occurred within its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), thus giving it jurisdiction over the matter.

Another issue was the arrest and detention of the Italian marines involved in the incident by the State of Kerala. The Italian government argued that this was a violation of international law principles of sovereign immunity and that any proceedings should be between the sovereign governments of the two countries, not constituent elements of a federal structure.

Court’s Observations and Rulings

The court observed that the incident occurred outside the territorial waters of India but within its Contiguous Zone and the Exclusive Economic Zone. It noted that under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), a coastal state has certain rights in these zones, but these do not amount to full sovereignty.

The court also noted that under UNCLOS, the flag state (in this case, Italy) has certain duties and responsibilities, including conducting an inquiry into any incident of navigation involving a ship flying its flag.

The court further observed that the arrest and detention of the Italian marines by the State of Kerala were unlawful and based on a misconception of the law relating to disputes between two sovereign nations.

The court ruled that the case was an incident between two nation-states and any dispute arising from it would be governed by the principles of international legal responsibility under which the rights and obligations of the parties will be those existing between the Republic of India and the Republic of Italy.

In conclusion, the case of the Republic of Italy Thr. Ambassador vs Union of India & Ors on 4 September 2012 is a landmark case that highlights the complexities of international maritime law, the rights and responsibilities of sovereign nations, and the jurisdictional issues that arise when incidents occur in international waters.