Rome:  Italian authorities should be allowed to deal with allegations its forces killed two Indian fishermen, the foreign ministry said on Monday, criticising Indian police for arresting servicemen acting to protect a cargo ship from pirates.   

The two Italian marines were part of a security detachment assigned to protect the merchant vessel Enrica Lexie from attacks in the Indian Ocean when the incident happened on Wednesday.   

Indian authorities accuse them of firing on and killing unarmed fishermen. The marines, Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, were arrested in the coastal town of Kochi and remain in custody.   

Considerable uncertainty remains over exactly what occurred in the incident which risks straining relations between the two countries.    

The Italian foreign ministry said in a statement the presence of armed guards on board the ship was allowable under Italian law and corresponded to United Nations resolutions concerning the fight against international maritime piracy.   

"As things stand, there are considerable differences of a judicial nature," Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi told reporters.   

"So far, I do not believe there has been the kind of collaboration between the states of India and Italy which could be hoped for and which could open a way out quickly," he said.   

The ministry said the case should be handled by Italy "as the incident occurred in international waters on an Italian-flagged ship". It said the servicemen were state officials and as such enjoyed immunity with respect to foreign states.   

"Contacts and collaboration between the two governments are essential to establish the facts in the face of unilateral actions being undertaken by police authorities," it said.   

An Italian diplomatic team has been sent to India to help resolve the situation. A meeting with Indian officials ended without agreement, the foreign ministry said.   

Fired into water

Italy began assigning military teams to protect its merchant vessels in the Indian Ocean last year after a series of attacks by Somali pirates on Italian ships.   

Pirates operating in small fishing vessels and fast motorboats have hijacked dozens of vessels in the region over recent years, extracting millions of dollars in ransom.   

Italian daily La Repubblica quoted the captain of the Enrica Lexie, Umberto Vitelli, as saying the servicemen fired warning shots into the water as a fishing vessel approached.   

The report he sent to the ship's owners and Italian authorities made no reference to any casualties. As cited by the newspaper, it said he assembled the crew in the control room when the fishing boat was first observed near his vessel.   

“The military team had taken up position and warned the fishing boat several times not to approach before firing into the water," La Repubblica quoted his report as saying.   

He said he was told soon afterwards that the boat was moving away and the situation returned to normal before Indian coast guard authorities requested his ship to proceed to Kochi to help with the identification of two suspected pirate vessels.

Italian newspapers have speculated that the vessel which approached the Enrica Lexie may not have been the same one as the boat on which the two fishermen were killed.   

The daily La Stampa cited Italian servicemen on the ship as saying the vessel they deterred from approaching held five armed men, not the 11 unarmed fishermen Indian authorities say were aboard.