DUBAI // Five fishermen injured when a United States Navy vessel fired on their boat off the UAE coast last year have returned to their hometowns in India.
The men had to remain in the country while the incident was investigated but were reunited with their families in Tamil Nadu state last night.
“We left by the Saturday night flight to India,” said Muthu Kannan, 35, who was hit by a bullet.
“We can confirm they have left,” said M K Lokesh, the Indian ambassador to the UAE. “We have done whatever possible. We are now waiting for the logical conclusion of the case.”
The men’s fishing trawler was about 16 kilometres off Jebel Ali on July 16 last year when USNS Rappahannock fired on the vessel with a heavy machine gun.
Six Indians and two Emiratis – one of them the men’s sponsor and the boat’s owner – were aboard. Arumugam Sekar, 29, was killed instantly, while Mr Kannan, Muthu Muniraj, 28, and Pandu Sanadhan, 26, all suffered bullet wounds. The remaining four men escaped without injury.
Although the men were relieved to see their families, they were unhappy about the amount of compensation paid to them.
“No one has helped us,” said Murugan, who escaped injury. “We have not received any salary for the past seven months. If our sponsor had at least paid our pending salaries it would have helped.”
The Indian embassy had been paying for their living expenses.
Before they left the UAE, their sponsor paid the injured men Dh3,000 each, while the other two were paid Dh1,000.
After the shooting, the US Navy paid the killed man’s family 500,000 rupees (Dh33,832) compensation, and Dh3,300 to each of the three injured men’s families. The amounts matched payouts from Tamil Nadu state.
US Navy officials said the crew of the Rappahannock used lethal force only after the fishing boat disregarded warnings by voice, radio and lights.
But the fishermen said that no warning was given before the fuel supply ship opened fire.
The Rappahannock is a 31,000-tonne refuelling ship attached to the navy’s military sealift command, which replenishes American ships on active duty.
In September last year, the men submitted a letter to Dubai Public Prosecution asking for permission to travel to India for further medical treatment and to be with their families. They needed the consent of UAE officials to leave because of continuing investigations. The police, public and federal prosecutors have not commented on the case.
Yesterday, Mr Muniraj’s sister, Munees, 21, said her family was eagerly awaiting her brother’s return.
“For several months now, we have been waiting to see them,” she said. “We have been counting down the time since they informed us they will return home.”
She said the US government’s compensation last year to the families was not enough.
“It is their responsibility to compensate the men well since they fired at them. We don’t know what their future holds and if they can work again at sea. We will petition our state government to help them further.”
She added that even if they were fit to return to work, the family would never agree to Mr Muniraj returning to Dubai.
“We won’t allow him to leave us again. If he can work here, that is good. Otherwise, we’ll see what is to be done.”
The US Navy declined to comment.