The captain and crew of an Italian cargo ship who shot dead two Indian fishermen they thought were pirates have been charged with murder.

Charges have been laid against the suspects who allegedly opened fire from the Enrcia Lexie cargo vessel on the fishing boat in international waters off Kerala in southern India, Reuters said.

The Kerala state government has authorised a payment of 500,000 rupees (£6,450) each to the dead fishermen's families.

The cargo ship's owners have apologised for the incident but families of the fishermen say that the attack was unprovoked. Nine other fishermen onboard survived.

Local reports claimed the Italian ship had violated maritime protocol but the Italian embassy denied the allegations and stuck to the original claim that the fishermen were pirates.

"After repeated warnings and after ascertaining from binoculars that the pirates were armed, warning shots were fired and the pirates withdrew,'' the embassy said.

The state government of Kerala, from where the victims came from, said that no evidence had been found that the fishermen were armed.