Indian fisherman: No warning before Gulf shooting

Associated Press Modified: July 17, 2012 at 10:46 am •  Published: July 17, 2012
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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — An Indian fisherman aboard a boat shot at by the U.S. Navy off Dubai's coast has told officials the crew received no warning before being fired upon, India's ambassador to the United Arab Emirates said Tuesday.

The account differs from that provided by the Navy, which said it resorted to lethal force Monday only after issuing a series of warnings.

One Indian was killed in the incident, and three of his countrymen were seriously wounded. The shooting underscored how quickly naval encounters can escalate in the increasingly tense waters of the Gulf.

The shooting happened Monday afternoon when a boat rapidly approached the refueling ship USNS Rappahannock about 10 miles (16 kilometers) off Dubai's Jebel Ali port, according to the Navy.

The Navy said the boat's crew disregarded warnings from the U.S. vessel, and only then did gunners fire on it with a .50-caliber machine gun.

A description of the incident posted online by the U.S. military indicates that a security team aboard the Rappahannock began issuing warnings as the boat headed toward it from about 900 yards (820 meters) away. Gunners opened fire when the boat closed in to about 100 yards (90 meters), according to the account.

The white-hulled, dark-bottomed boat appeared to be a civilian vessel powered by three outboard motors. It had no obvious military markings. The skiff was 50 feet (15 meters) long and carried no communications gear, according to the U.S. military description.

Similar boats are used for fishing in the region, though Iran's Revolutionary Guard also employs relatively small, fast-moving craft in the Gulf.

Indian consular officials have met with the wounded. Indian Ambassador M.K. Lokesh told The Associated Press on Tuesday that one of the survivors reported that the men were returning from fishing when they encountered the American ship.

"He says there was no warning" before the shooting occurred, Lokesh said, though he noted that authorities are still working to determine what happened. "We are waiting for the investigation to be complete."

Guest workers from India and other South Asian countries have flocked to the Gulf for decades in search of well-paying jobs. Many are employed as low-skilled workers in industries such as fishing and construction.

Dubai's police chief, Lt. Gen. Dahi Khalfan Tamim, said an initial investigation suggests "the boat was in its right course and did not pose any danger," according to comments published by Abu Dhabi-based daily The National. He told the government-backed newspaper that the shooting appeared to be a mistake.

Lokesh said the casualties are all from the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Four other men — two Indians and two Emiratis — were unhurt because they were in the boat's cabin, he said.

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