India's Supreme Court has ruled that two Italian marines accused of killing a pair of fishermen off the coast of India last year will be tried in a special court to be set up by the Indian government.
Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone have been detained in India since the shooting last February. Defence lawyers wanted the pair tried outside India. However, a three-judge panel led by Chief Justice Altamas Kabir ruled on Thursday that they would be tried in a specially convened court in New Delhi. The Indian government would 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, crossing parts of 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 Indian state of Kerala.
When the shooting started in the middle of the afternoon on February 15, most of the 11-member crew on the Indian boat were asleep in preparation for a night of fishing, said J. Freddy, the boat's owner.
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 had shot the two fishermen in self-defence and that the marines should be tried in their own country because the incident occurred in international waters outside India's jurisdiction.
Ferrari, the Italian car maker, even weighed in, having two of its cars carry the flag of the Italian navy during the October 28 Formula One grand-prix race in New Delhi.
Thursday's ruling also removed the case from the jurisdiction of Kerala state authorities.
Italian Consul-General Giampaolo Cutillo said his government was satisfied with at least that small victory.
"The Supreme Court confirmed that Kerala has no jurisdiction in this case, which is basically what we maintained from the very first day," he said.
Additional reporting by Associated Press