Indian court extends custody of Italian marines who shot fishermen

An Indian court on Friday extended the custody of two Italian marines accused of shooting two Indian fishermen after mistaking them for pirates, news reports said.

Chief Judicial Magistrate A.K. Gopakuar, in the southern state of Kerala, also ordered the case referred to the Sessions Court, essentially clearing the way for a trial, Press Trust of India reported.

The marines, who are now being held in a prison, are expected to be shifted to a school, where they will be held under guard, possibly in a guest house, media reports said.

The Italian government had reportedly requested that the men be shifted.

The case, which has strained ties between India and Italy, began Feb. 15, when the marines are accused of shooting the fishermen off India's southwest coast. The marines had been providing security on a cargo ship.

Italy's Foreign Minister Guilio Terzi has traveled to New Delhi to press his country's position that the men should be tried in an Italian court, because the shootings took place in international waters. But New Delhi says the case should be handled in India because the men were shot while on an Indian boat.

Piracy has become a major threat to merchant ships in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea, with Somalia-based pirates hijacking ships and crew for ransom.

Several countries, including India, allow ship owners to deploy armed security guards on ships.