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US Navy 'should have been more careful' before firing

Indian defence and state officials say the US Navy should have been more cautious before opening fire on a fishing boat near Jebel Ali.

Muthu Kannan received bullet wounds when the US navy ship Rappahannock opened fired on the fishing boat he and others were on while they were off the coast of Jebel Ali on July 16, 2012. Jeff Topping/The National
Muthu Kannan received bullet wounds when the US navy ship Rappahannock opened fired on the fishing boat he and others were on while they were off the coast of Jebel Ali on July 16, 2012. Jeff Topping/The National

DUBAI // Indian defence and state officials say the US Navy should have been more cautious before opening fire on a fishing boat near Jebel Ali port last year – killing one fisherman and injuring three others.

"Any navy, particularly one like the US Navy, should have taken careful and deliberate action before resorting to firing," said Commodore Amar K Mahadevan, naval officer in charge, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry in southern India.

"The US Navy is certainly not trigger happy, so we must give them the benefit of the doubt. But any modern warship has devices to ward off or clearly discern whether a threat exists. I'm quite surprised at the action taken, even if they did feel threatened. As mariners – while keeping in mind that the navy's own safety is primary – they should be extra cautious and realise that once they resort to firing it could claim innocent lives."

The investigation report released last week said the USNS Rappahannock security team had issued warning signals, including laser signals and shots in the water, in less than two-minutes' response time to a rapidly approaching boat.

Diplomatic fall-out followed in the wake of the incident, with the Indian fishermen insisting they received no warning and the chief of Dubai Police, Lt Gen Dahi Khalfan Tamim, describing the decision to shoot as a "clear misjudgement".

Cmdr Jason Salata, a spokesman for the US Navy's Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, said historical incidents involving small-boat suicide attacks, including one on the USS Cole in 2000 and USS Firebolt in 2004, led the crew to take defensive action.

The USS Cole bombing at Yemen's Aden port killed 17 American sailors and three USS Firebolt servicemen died when an unidentified dhow exploded while they were on patrol near an oil platform in the northern Arabian Gulf.

"A boat heading towards you at a speed of 30 knots would get any mariner worried," Cmdr Salata said.

"The incident is regrettable. But with the tragic history of the USS Cole in the minds of our sailors, these incidents with small boats have repeatedly demonstrated the necessity of the standing rules. And the team acted within established procedures."

The US Navy's report absolving its sailors has riled Indians.

"The US Navy is lying," said N?J Bose, head of the Tamil Nadu fishermen's association. "They are trying to justify their act and hide the truth. They should never have shot innocent fishermen.

"The navy should be able to differentiate between people trying to harm them and men trying to earn a livelihood.

"Fishermen cannot harm anyone. They are out there to make a living."

rtalwar@thenational.ae

pkannan@thenational.ae