New Delhi/Kochi:  India on Thursday summoned Italy's Ambassador and lodged a strong protest over the killing of its two fishermen in firing by security guards of an Italian ship off the Kerala coast suspecting them to be pirates, terming the incident "serious and unfortunate".

As the incident on Wednesday triggered a diplomatic row between India and Italy, Italian Ambassador Giacomo Sanfelice di Monteforte, who was summoned by Ministry of External Affairs by Secretary (West) M Ganapathi, said his country's Navy followed the international protocol.
   
Two fishermen in a boat including its driver were shot dead when guards onboard the merchant vessel 'Enrica Lexie' fired at their boat carrying 11 fishermen off Kollam coast, suspecting the group to be a band of pirates.

After the meeting in Delhi, the envoy said the facts of the case are yet to be clarified.

"We are working in very close cooperation with Indian authorities. It is in any case a very sad incident. What I want to underline is that the Italian ship moved voluntarily into the Kochi port," he told reporters.

Asked about the firing incident, the envoy said: "The Italian Navy followed the international protocol as it was approached by a vessel which did not stop when flash lights were sent.

The vessel was anchored off the Kochi coast and its crew is being questioned by the police in the ship itself.

Official sources said there were 11 fishermen in the boat at the time of the incident out of whom 9 were sleeping and the driver and another person who were awake were shot dead.

"There was no prior warning as reported by the crew," the sources said, adding the matter was now being investigated by the Navy, Coast Guard and local police.

Reacting to the incident, Defence Minister A K Antony said, "It is very serious and unfortunate."
    
He said investigations are on and law will take its own course in the matter.

Underlining that strict vigil is maintained by the authorities, he said, "Kerala police and Coast Guard officers are visiting the people concerned... We will keep a strict vigil and we want everything as per law."

(Agencies)