Chris McManus, killed hostage Nigeria
Chris McManus, who died in the failed rescue mission in Nigeria (Reuters)

Britain and Italy are trying hard to defuse the diplomatic row over the failed rescue mission in Nigeria where two hostages died at the hands of their captors on Thursday.

Italy accused Britain of acting unilaterally on the issue and did not inform them before the Special Boat Service mission began their operation to rescue the hostages.

British engineer Chris McManus and Italian Franco Lamolinara were taken hostage by a splinter group of Boko Haram on 12 May 2011 from the Birnin Kebbi city of Nigeria.

Foreign Secretary William Hague met his Italian counterpart Giulio Terzi on Friday during an informal foreign ministers meeting in Copenhagen.

They agreed on the need and urgency to share information in similar situations and Hague explained in a joint statement that there was only limited opportunity to free the hostages whose lives were in danger.

The statement was issued after Italy's president Giorgio Napolitano sought a political and diplomatic explanation from the UK.

"The behaviour of the British government in not informing Italy is inexplicable. A political and diplomatic clarification is necessary," Reuters quoted Giorgio Napolitano as saying.

Downing Street maintained that Britain had been in close contact with the Italian government since the kidnapping and Rome was informed about the operation as it was progressing.

"The fact of the matter is things were moving quite quickly on the ground and we had to respond to that and our top priority was to maximise the chances of getting the hostages out," Reuters quoted a Downing Street spokesman as saying.