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​photo of the Indian Ocean bymissy & the universe/flickr

Black Box Data could vindicate or condemn Italian Security Maritime Shooting

02/21/2012 -“Black box” data could provide evidence of the escalation of force that led to an incident in the Indian Ocean that left two fishermen dead, but it may be too late to recover it. 

There’s still a lot of uncertainty aboutwhat exactly happened aboard the Enrica Lexie last week. Mistaking fishermen for approaching pirates, Italian marines, aboard the oil tanker as security, shot and killed two of them.

“The particulars of the Enrica Lexie incident are unknown, but there will seldom be an instance where a security team jumps directly to lethal force. A scaled escalation of force always starts with the lowest level of force, with additional force added until the threat is eliminated,” wrote piracy expert captain Richard Madden ina blog about the incident.

Rules of engagement should begin at a lower level of force--a security team, for example, may be enough to dissuade some pirates. Higher levels could include aiming bright lights at approaching vessels, using water cannons, and activating Long Range Acoustical Devices.

Crewmembers aboard Enrica say they saw a boat of five armed men approaching the ship. The crew says they sent the boat a warning followed by warning shots fired into the water. That was enough for the smaller craft to change its course, according to Umberto Vitelli, the ship’s captain. Vitelli said there was no visible damage to the smaller boat and no casualties.

The men in the boattell a different story. J. Freddy was part of an 11-man team that had set out for a three-week fishing expedition. Freddy says he woke up from a nap to a “hail of bullets” as the man steering was shot. He took control of the boat and steered it away. A second crew member was shot as they fled.

The fishermen alerted authorities that they had been fired on by a ship. Only four ships were located in a 60-mile radius of where the shooting occurred, according to the Coast Guard.

“Asno merchant vessel had reported a pirate attack, the Coast Guard radioed these four ships, asking if they had been involved in a piracy incident. Only Enrica Lexie responded positively,” The Hindu reports.

This raised suspicion among coast guard officials because pirate attacks are usually reported immediately. It had been more than three hours since the shooting when the Coast Guard contacted the Enrica. The Coast Guard requested that the Enrica proceed to a port in Kochi where two members of its security crew were taken into custody.

Madden says the February 15th incident shows the importance of VDRs on ships. VDRs function like black boxes, recording audio, speed, GPS, radio communications, hull information and other data that can help investigators piece together what happened before and during an incident.

“You will want to be able to prove to authorities and your company that a scaled escalation of force was used. A thorough investigation of the Enrica Lexie incident should include a review of the VDR data to demonstrate the actions taken,” Madden wrote--data that unfortunately, may no longer be available.

A VDR will constantly record data, but will overwrite data after 12 hours if it isn't activated to collect data from a specific incident. "Official sources said that as per norms, the VDR isswitched on in the event of a suspected pirate attack or an act like the firing," The Asian Age reports.

Authorities suspect the Italian crew let the recorder overwrite old data in an effort to “intentionally destroy crucial evidence.”