ROME Italy expressed "strong disappointment" on Friday that India's Supreme Court had delayed a decision on where two Italian marines accused of killing two fishermen would face trial.
The sailors, members of a military security team protecting the cargo ship Enrica Lexie from pirate attacks, fired on a fishing boat they mistook for a pirate craft off Kerala in February, killing two.
"The Italian government expresses strong disappointment and profound bitterness for the delay, three months after court arguments have ended," Rome said in a statement on Friday.
Italy has challenged in the Supreme Court India's right to try the sailors, saying the shooting took place in international waters, outside the jurisdiction of Indian courts.
Indian authorities accuse the sailors of killing unarmed fishermen in a "contiguous zone" where Indian law applies.
Italy summoned the Indian ambassador to urge India's Supreme Court to reach a decision before the year-end Christmas holiday.
Separately, the sailors filed a petition on Friday with the Kerala high court seeking permission to return temporarily to Italy for Christmas. They are out on bail in the Indian state but are not allowed to leave the country.
The Kerala court will consider their petition on Tuesday, the counsel for the sailors, P. Vijaya Bhanu, told Reuters. The Italian government has given an undertaking the marines would be in its custody during their stay and would take responsibility for their return to India.
In New Delhi, prosecutors and the sailors' defence lawyers said the case was unlikely to be heard before January 2 at the earliest.
The case has soured relations between Italy and India, with Rome insisting Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone should be tried at home.
Italy petitioned India's Supreme Court after the Kerala High Court held the marines were liable to be tried under Indian law. In India, states level judiciaries are responsible for law and order on their territory.
(Reporting by Catherine Hornby in Rome, Antonella Ciancio in Milan and D. Jose in Kerala; Writing by Catherine Hornby and Annie Banerji; Editing by Michael Roddy)