|Wednesday, 18 July 2012 14:16|
Conflicting accounts have surfaced after the shooting of a boat by a US Navy ship"s security team near Jebel Ali port on Monday. An Indian fisherman was killed in the incident and three others were injured. The US Navy Central Command and the 5th Fleet maintained that the small craft was warned to stay away from the ship, but an Indian fisherman, who survived, claimed no warning was given.
Muthu Muniraj, who received bullet injuries to his legs, said the boat was returning to the shore after an engine had broken down.
"Usually, we return late in the evening, but decided to head to shore early because one of the engines had stopped working. We did not receive any warning. If they had signalled to us, we would have waited for them to pass. But there was no siren or alarm," he said from his bed in Rashid Hospital.
The 28-year-old said their boat was initially heading towards the bow of the ship. "But soon, we turned to cross it from the stern and we had almost crossed the ship when firing started all of a sudden," said Muniraj.
However, details of the incident received by Khaleej Times from the US Central Command (CENTCOM) showed the incident lasted all of three minutes when the skiff aroused suspicion and was seen as a "contact of interest due to its proximity and speed".
It was five nautical miles from the ship when sighted at 2.50pm UAE time and was travelling at a speed of 20-25 knots. The white and blue boat approached 1,200 yards on the same bearing, and then swiftly turned "inbound" toward the USNS Rappahannock which could have raised the alarm on deck. CENTCOM said the security team initiated the first level of defensive, non-lethal warning procedures. But the 50-feet long boat, which moved close to the vessel at 900 yards, allegedly ignored the warnings.
Two minutes later, at 2.52pm, the security team began the another round of defensive, non-lethal warning procedures, but it was not clear what these procedures were, and the small boat allegedly ignored further warnings at 150 yards from the naval vessel.
Gunners resorted to machine gun fire when the skiff edged close to 100 yards from the ship, which slowed down the boat at 90 yards and the sailors on the ship again used "non-lethal procedures"."
The small craft"s engines soon died and the Rappahannock moved away at full speed, according to the US Navy account.
Pain for survivors
For Muniraj, the pain may only be beginning. A bullet hit his right leg and another grazed his left. His colleague and compatriot Arumugham Sekar was not so lucky. He died on the spot. Kaliappan Muthukumar and Pandu Sanathan were the other survivors.
Muniraj, who arrived in Dubai last November, a month after his wedding, said there were six Indian fishermen and two Arabs aboard the boat. "The Arabs were inside the cabin and all of us were out. After the firing, we called the emergency numbers for help. But they couldn"t hear us because of the noise of the engines. So, we stopped the boat and then made the call." He said his family was worried about his health. "My wife was crying a lot. I can move my legs now, but I don"t know when I can start walking properly."
Legal action sought
Indian Ambassador to the UAE M. K. Lokesh told Khaleej Times that Indian Foreign Minister S. M. Krishna had asked the embassy to approach the UAE authorities to take legal action against those responsible for the incident. "We are pursuing the matter with both UAE and US authorities," the envoy said. "The UAE has already registered a case and has begun investigation. The US has also started (its) own investigation. Hopefully, action will be taken soon in accordance with the law," Lokesh said.
Meanwhile, the US Embassy in New Delhi offered its condolences to the families of the fishermen who were affected and said the incident was under investigation.
Family in shock
Speaking to Khaleej Times from Ramanathapuram in South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Sekar"s uncle Selvaraj said the family was shattered by the death and were waiting for the body. "No one has been in touch with us, but we heard Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa has deputed officials to meet the family."
He said the mother of the deceased was admitted to a hospital in a state of shock when she heard of the tragedy. The father, who has a chronic ailment, has been in and out of hospital for treatment. Sekar, 28, left for Dubai 10 months ago and his meagre earnings had helped support the family.
Thahir Hussain, a journalist with a Tamil daily, said the Tamil Nadu state government has announced an ex-gratia payment of Rs700,000 to the family of the victim.
Courtesy: Khaleej Times