The Kerala high court on Thursday ordered release of Italian ship Enrica Lexie, detained off Kochi port for over a month in connection with the gunning down of two Indian fishermen allegedly by marines aboard the vessel.
Allowing the plea of ship owners Dolphin Tankers, Justice P S Gopinathan directed the state government and police to release the ship, subject to the owners executing a Rs 3 crore bond before the deputy conservator of Cochin Port Trust.
The court also directed the shipping company to give an undertaking that the vessel, its master and crew would appear as and when called upon by competent authorities with three weeks' prior notice.
On the argument of Advocate General K P Dandapani that other marines (on board the ship) could also be required as part of the investigation, the court said release of the vessel should not interfere with the probe.
The owners argued they could not take responsibility of the marines as they were not part of the ship's crew and they were deputed by the Italian navy for security.
The two fishermen, Valentine Jalstine and Ajesh Pinki, were killed when the marines allegedly fired at their fishing boat off Kollam coast on February 15.
Marines Latore Massimiliano and Salvatore Gironi have been arrested and charged with murder and lodged in the Central Prison in Thiruvananthapuram under judicial remand.
Meanwhile, Italy's Defence Minister Giam Paolo di Paolo met Chief Minister Oommen Chandy in the state capital in connection with the case.
After their meeting, which lasted about 30 minutes, the Italian minister declined to make any statement to the media.
The minister and Italian officials accompanying him also met the marines at the prison.