x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Men say they must return to UAE for sake of their families despite shooting incident

US Navy opened fire on fishing boat, killing one crewman in injuring three others.

DUBAI// Almost a year after their boat was shot at by the US Navy off the Dubai coast, two Indian fishermen say they are planning to return to the UAE to find work.

One crewman was killed and three others wounded when the USNS Rappahannock opened fire on the boat after it came too close to the refuelling ship on July 16.

But now two of the crew say financial problems and mounting medical bills at home have left them with little choice but to seek new employment.

Muthu Kannan, who was hit by three bullets in his legs and buttocks, said the need to support his family at home in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu is greater than his fears for his own safety.

"I have to work to feed my family," said Mr Kannan, who plans to return in two months and work as a fisherman. However, if the job proves too difficult because of his injuries he hopes to work in a store until he regains his strength.

"After I was shot, they were scared about me going back. But if I don't, how will the money come? I'm a fisherman but I can do other work also. I will find a job anywhere, in a shop maybe. Here there is no work I just sit and wait for jobs."

The men's fishing boat was about 16km off Jebel Ali when the US Navy vessel fired on it with a heavy machine gun.

Six Indians and two Emiratis - one of them the men's sponsor and the boat's owner - were onboard.

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

In February, Mr Kannan and the remaining four fishermen returned to their hometowns in India. Before they left the UAE, their sponsor paid the injured men Dh3,000 each, while the other two were paid Dh1,000. The US Navy paid Mr Sekar's family 500,000 rupees (Dh33,000) compensation, and Dh3,300 to each of the three injured men's families. The Tamil Nadu government gave an equal payout to them but the men say the compensation hardly covered medical expenses.

Mr Kannan continues to undergo treatment in an Indian hospital. Although walking is painful and he still feels weak, he is anxious to get back to work to support his parents, two young children and wife.

"My main worry is that I cannot lift heavy things, so how will I work in Dubai? After the shooting I was scared of going back to the sea. Doctors took three bullets out of my body. But now I'm not scared anymore. I have to make myself walk normally and become stronger."

Another fisherman, Kumaresan, who escaped unhurt, said he also planned to return to find work because of financial pressures at home.

"Things aren't good back at home," he said speaking from Tamil Nadu. "I am the oldest in the family and have four younger brothers to support. The cost of living is high here."

He used to earn Dh1,000 a month in Dubai and sent the equivalent amount home every two months.

"Our relatives are helping us with money and food now as I have been unable to find work."

Mr Kumaresan said he was looking for fishing jobs or any other openings in Dubai. He expects to return in a couple of months.

In a report released last month, the US navy said the crew of the USNS Rappahannock used appropriate force when they opened fire on the fishing trawler.

It concluded that the boat's speed, apparent collision course and failure to respond to two warnings led the security team onboard the naval vessel "to make a reasonable assessment that the boat represented an imminent threat and was demonstrating hostile intent".

However, Arumugam, the father of Sekar, who was killed in the shooting, continues to seek justice and said life without his only son was difficult to bear. "My family is in distress," said Mr Arumugam.

"Yes, we got money from the government and navy, but my son would have supported us and taken care of us throughout our life. We are old now. My wife has been ill and hospital costs are eating the money we got.

"My wife is constantly thinking of him. We are never at peace. It was the fault of the US, it was their mistake. They went away free."