x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 12 December 2017

US navy shooting survivors tell of ordeal

Three injured Indian fishermen are recovering at the Rashid Hospital in Dubai, a day after the US navy opened fire on their fishing boat 16 kilometres off the UAE coast.

Muniraj says the US navy started firing at them after their boat crossed the USNS Rappahannock and was heading towards the shore.
Muniraj says the US navy started firing at them after their boat crossed the USNS Rappahannock and was heading towards the shore.

DUBAI// Three injured Indian fishermen, Muthu Muniraj, 28, Muthu Kannan, 35, Pandu Sanadhan, 26, were recovering at the Rashid Hospital this morning, a day after the US navy opened fire on their fishing boat 16 kilometres off the Jebel Ali coast.

Mr Muniraj, who was shot on his right leg, said the US navy started firing at them after their boat crossed the USNS Rappahannock and was heading towards the shore.

"We saw the boat from far," said Mr Muniraj,  "When we came close, we slowed down to let them pass to avoid any accidents.

Once we crossed them from behind, they started firing at us," he said.

"Usually, we know alarms and sirens are sounded by ships. But there were no warnings," he said.

He was on the boat with five other Indian fishermen and two Emiratis. Sekar, whose full name and exact age is still not known, died immediately. All six Indians belong to the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

"Sekar died as soon as the bullet hit him. The other two men received bullet wounds on their arms and legs."

Mr Muniraj hoped that he would be able to walk again soon.

"They told me that if I can't move my toes, they'll have to amputate. But, thankfully I can lift them a little now." Another bullet had scraped his left leg.

Mr Muniraj, who lives with other fishermen in Jumeirah, came to Dubai eight months ago.

"We usually go to catch fish once every week... My family does not know about this. I came here right after my marriage," said the fisherman. He said all six of them had come to Dubai to work as fishermen around the same time.

Lt Greg Raelson, a spokesman for the US navy's Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, said the crew of the USNS Rappahannock used lethal force after the fishermen disregarded a series of warnings and rapidly approached the US ship.

When those efforts failed to deter the fishing boat, the security team on the ship opened fire with a .50-calibre machine gun, he said.

The US embassy in New Delhi has released a statement today saying: "The Embassy of the United States of America would like to convey its condolences to the families of the crew of a 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.  We wish to inform you that the incident is under investigation."

Indian ambassador, MK Lokesh, said his government's main concern was the welfare of the injured men.

"We are in touch with the local authorities. We are monitoring the situation," he said.

Staff from the Indian consulate met with the three victims and promised to assist them.

PKannan@thenational.ae

View USNS Rappahanock incident, July 16, 2012 in a larger map