Millennium Post

Fishermen say US boat fired without warning

Indian fishermen who survived a hail of gunfire from a US navy boat off the coast of the United Arab Emirates disputed US claims that their boat drew fire after ignoring warnings to steer clear of the American vessel.

One Indian was killed and three others injured on Monday when the USNS Rappahannock, a refueling ship, fired on the fishing vessel, which the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet said approached at high speed and ignored repeated warnings.

The incident highlighted the potential for a rapid escalation of tensions in Gulf waters, where US forces are expanding their presence as Washington ramps up pressure on Iran over its nuclear programme.

The fishermen, hospitalised with gunshot wounds after the incident near Dubai’s Jebel Ali port, said on Tuesday that they received no warning before the US craft opened fire, and that their craft had attempted to avoid any contact with it.

‘We had no warning at all from the ship, we were speeding up to try and go around them and then suddenly we got fired at,’ 28-year-old Muthu Muniraj told Reuters from hospital, his legs punctured by the rounds of the US craft’s .50-caliber gun.

‘We know warning signs and sounds and there were none; it was very sudden. My friend was killed, he’s gone. I don’t understand what happened.’

A Fifth Fleet spokesman, Lt. Greg Raelson, asked whether the identification of the craft as a fishing boat made the threat cited by the Navy less likely, said an internal inquiry into the incident had not finished.

‘Non-lethal measures were taken while attempting to signal the vessel,’ he said, adding that the fishing craft did not respond. ‘That was when the security team fired rounds from the .50-caliber ... Our ships have an inherent right to self-defense against lethal threats.’

The United States has been particularly wary of attacks on its ships since two al-Qaeda suicide bombers rammed an explosives-laden boat into the USS Cole in 2000, blowing a massive hole in its side and killing 17 US sailors.

In Monday’s incident, other members of the boat’s crew, which consisted of six Indians and two Emiratis, said their boat had come under fire as it returned from trawling in waters off Jebel Ali.

‘We were fishing and then on the way back they started shooting at us, so many shots, like a storm,’ said 35-year-old Muthu Kannan, who had a gunshot wound to the abdomen and a lower leg wired into place with metal rods.

This is not the first time for us to go out in the boat and we all know what a warning is,’ said 26-year-old Pandu Sanadhan. ‘All I can remember is a lot of shooting.’


India said on Tuesday it will initiate appropriate action in the killing of its fisherman by personnel on board a US naval vessel off Dubai, even as Washington conveyed its condolences over the death and ordered a probe. India is ascertaining facts into the shooting by personnel onboard the USNS Rappahannock, an external affairs ministry spokesperson said here. ‘We will stay in regular touch with US and UAE authorities to ascertain full facts and take appropriate further action in the matter,’ the spokesperson said.

‘We are deeply saddened by the loss of life of the Indian fisherman and the injuries sustained by the others. Our thoughts are with their families,’ the spokesperson said. Meanwhile, US ambassador to India Nancy Powell telephoned Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai Tuesday morning to convey her ‘regret’ for the loss of life and assured that the US government would conduct full investigation into the shooting.

In a statement, the US embassy in New Delhi conveyed its ‘condolences to the families of the crew of the small motor vessel which came under fire from the USNS Rappahannock on July 16 after the vessel disregarded non lethal warnings and rapidly approached the US ship.'
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