India has called on the United Arab Emirates to investigate the fatal shooting of an Indian fisherman by a US navy ship in waters off Dubai, the country’s foreign ministry has confirmed.
“India’s ambassador in Abu Dhabi has requested UAE authorities to probe the circumstances of the tragic incident,” India’s foreign ministry’s spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said on Tuesday.
Al Jazeera’s Prerna Suri reporting from Delhi said: “The Indian authorities are pressing the UAE to charge those who are reponsible, this is fast becoming a diplomatic problem for India, the UAE and the US.”
An Indian fisherman was killed and three people wounded as their boat was shot at off the coast of Dubai in the southern Gulf on Monday.
Lieutenant Greg Raelson, a spokesperson for the US navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, said sailors aboard the USNS Rappahannock opened fire on the boat after it ignored warnings.
“US ships have an inherent right to self defence against potential threats… The safety of our vessels and our personnel is of the utmost priority,” he told Al Jazeera in an email response to a query.
However, witnesses who were aboard the boat said the US vessel gave no warning. The fishermen, hospitalised with gunshot wounds after the incident, said that their craft had attempted to avoid any contact with the Rappahannock.
“We had no warning at all from the ship, we were speeding up to try and go around them and then suddenly we got fired at,” 28-year-old Muthu Muniraj said from hospital, his legs punctured by the rounds of the US craft’s .50-caliber gun.
“We know warning signs and sounds and there were none; it was very sudden. My friend was killed, he’s gone. I don’t understand what happened,” he said on Tuesday.
After firing on the fishing boat, the US ship sailed away without stopping to help, the fishermen said. They had to call for help themselves.
“They [US vessel] did not come to the aid of the people. The Indians on board called the police, and the US ship kept sailing,” one man told Al Jazeera.
“The firing has led to the death of one Indian national and serious injury of three Indian nationals,” Tarek al-Hedan, an
aide to the foreign minister for political affairs, told the official WAM news agency on Monday.
“The services concerned are now investigating this incident,” he said.
An Indian official told reporters in Delhi: “Our embassy in Washington DC has been in touch with the US Government since midnight yesterday. Our embassy in Abu Dhabi is working with local authorities to carry out full investigation into the circumstances leading to this unfortunate and tragic incident”.
The US ambassador to India Nancy Powell also telephoned Ranjan Mathai, the Indian Foreign Secretary to convey her regret for the loss of life and assured that the US government would conduct a full investigation.
The shooting took place at around 2pm local time (10:00GMT) about 16km from the coast, the US navy said.
The Rappahannock – with a crew of 81 civilians and three military officers – was headed into the UAE port of Jebel Ali when the small motor boat came within 8km of it, the navy said.
Navy officials told Al Jazeera the crew first tried to halt the vessel via radio and on loudspeaker, as well as by flashing lights and firing warning shots. They then shot at the boat with a .50 calibre weapon.
But a witness told Al Jazeera that no warning shots were fired by the US navy to warn the vessel.
Dozens of police and other Emirati officials crowded around the boat after it docked following the incident at a small Dubai port used by fishermen and sailors. The boat was removed from the port shortly afterwards on Monday.
Rescue workers were seen carrying one person in a body bag off the white-hulled boat and placing it in an ambulance as fishermen looked on, the Associated Press news agency reported.
The nine-metre long boat was powered by three outboard motors.
Similar boats are used for fishing in the region, though Iran’s Revolutionary Guard also employs relatively small, fast-moving craft in the Gulf.
US military vessels routinely cross paths with Iranian ships in international waters in the Gulf without incident, but speed boats from the Revolutionary Guard have passed close to US ships in incidents that have raised alarm in Washington.
In early 2008, then President George Bush accused Iran of a “provocative act” after five small Iranian craft buzzed around the destroyer USS Hopper.
Tensions are elevated in the Gulf after Iran last week renewed threats to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz – the route for one-fifth of the world’s oil – in retaliation for tighter sanctions over Tehran’s nuclear programme.
The US recently boosted its naval presence in the Gulf with additional minesweepers and other warships.
The US navy’s 5th Fleet, based in Bahrain, said it was investigating the Monday shooting.
— Additional reporting from Jane Ferguson