AHMEDABAD -  Three fishermen believed to be the first victims of the Mumbai attacks have been declared dead by an Indian court, more than eight years after the assault which killed over 160 people. The ruling in the civil court in the western state of Gujarat means the men's families can finally be granted death certificates for their loved ones, whose bodies were never found. "The court accepted applications from the kin of the deceased fishermen and ordered the state government to issue death certificates for the men," government lawyer T C Sule told AFP on Tuesday. Five fishermen were aboard a trawler off the coast of Gujarat in November 2008 when it was hijacked by gunmen later identified as the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks.

The captain was found dead inside the trawler, but the bodies of the four others were never located. Sule said the missing crewmen were presumed murdered by the extremists, but under Indian law one cannot be declared dead unless a body is identified or more than seven years has passed without any proof of life.

The families of three of the men approached the civil court in January last year, demanding death certificates be issued.

Without legal proof, they had been denied the financial compensation given to the families of those killed in the gun and bomb assault, Sule said.

"Their families can now seek benefits declared by the Indian government for the victims of the attack," he said.