New Delhi: The Supreme Court Monday granted three weeks time to the owner of the fishing vessel to respond to a plea of some Kerala fishermen seeking shares from Rs two crore compensation, to be paid to him for the 2012 incident in which his boat 'St Antony' was fired at by the Italian marines killing two fishermen.
A bench comprising Justices Indira Banerjee and JK Maheshwari took note of the submission of lawyer A Karthik, appearing for the boat owner Freddy, that he be granted some time to respond to the plea of the surviving fishermen who wanted shares from his portion of Rs two crore compensation yet to be disbursed.
Three weeks time has been granted to file the counter affidavit (reply). One week thereafter (granted) for filing rejoinder. List after six weeks, the bench said, adding that the state government can also file its response to the plea.
Earlier, the apex court had directed the Kerala High Court not to disburse any amount from Rs two crore earmarked for the owner of the fishing vessel.
The plea filed by seven, out of ten surviving fishermen who were also on the boat, said that they too were eligible for the compensation from Rs two crore earmarked by the apex court for the boat owner.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had suggested that the fishermen's plea can be sent to the Kerala High Court which is entrusted with the task of disbursing the compensation, to which the bench had said a notice to vessel owner Freddy was necessary as any modification in the order will reduce his share.
The notice of this application be given to the boat owner and in the meanwhile, we request the Kerala High Court not to disburse any amount to the boat owner in terms of the June 15, 2021 order, the bench had said in its order.
Freddy, for whom Rs two crore out of total Rs 10 crore compensation has been earmarked, was also paid Rs 17 lakh ex-gratia earlier for the damage to the vessel which was worth Rs 10 lakh only, the counsel for the fishermen had said.
Urging the top court to modify its June 15 order by providing some compensation to the surviving fishermen, the lawyer had said that one of the four grounds for seeking damages in the case was injuries, including mental, which were also sustained by his clients.
Kerala government has now said no compensation will be given to us on account of the latest order of the Supreme Court and we just want that the Rs 2 crore compensation, payable to the boat owner, be stayed, he had said.
The bench had said Freddy should be made party instead of the Centre as only he can oppose this plea.
On June 15, the top court had brought the curtains down on the 9-year old pending criminal proceedings in India against two Italian marines, Massimilano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, who were accused of killing the two fishermen, after Rs 10 crore in compensation was paid by Italy to the heirs of the deceased and the boat owner.
It had directed Rs 4 crore each be given to the dependents of two deceased fishermen and the rest Rs 2 crore would be given to the vessel owner.
The top court had referred the matter to the Kerala High Court to oversee the disbursement.
In the fresh plea, the fishermen said they were also injured in the incident and hence, entitled to compensation. They have sought a stay on the disbursement till their claims are determined.
The top court had also said earlier that as per the international arbitral award accepted by India, Italy shall resume further investigation in the case against the two marines and quashed the FIR, registered at Coastal Police Station of Neendakara, Kollam in Kerala and re-registered by NIA in 2013, and all the proceedings in the case.
It had closed the case after the Arbitral Tribunal constituted under Annex VII of UNCLOS delivered its award on May 21, 2020, under which Italy agreed to pay Rs 10 crore compensation, over the ex-gratia amount already paid.
We also further direct that the amount of Rs 10 crore now lying with the Registry of this Court be transferred to the High Court of Kerala, out of which Rs 4 crore be paid to the heirs of each deceased and Rs 2 crores be paid to the owner of the boat - St. Antony, the bench had said.
It had requested the Chief Justice of the Kerala High Court to nominate a Judge to pass appropriate order of disbursement/investment of the amount to the heirs and ensure the compensation is duly received by them and not diverted/ misappropriated.
"The remaining amount of Rs two crore be paid to the owner of the boat - St. Antony by an account payee cheque, the bench had said.
The top court noted that Kerala, the heirs of the deceased fishermen and the owner of the boat have agreed to accept the award.
In February 2012, India had accused the two marines on board the MV Enrica Lexie -- an Italian flagged oil tanker -- of killing two Indian fishermen who were on a fishing vessel in India's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Latorre, who had suffered a brain stroke on August 31, 2014, was first granted bail and allowed by the apex court on September 12, 2014, to go to Italy for four months and after that, extensions have been granted to him.
In Italy, Latorre underwent heart surgery after which the top court granted him an extension of his stay in his native country.
The complaint against the marines was lodged by Freddy on whose vessel two Kerala fishermen were killed when marines opened fire on them under the misconception that they were pirates.