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Fishermen All Say US Navy Opened Fire Without Warning

"We were fishing and then on the way back they started shooting at us, so many shots, like a storm"

- Common Dreams staff

The Indian fishermen who survived a hail of gunfire from a U.S. Navy ship off the coast of Dubai dispute U.S. claims that their boat drew fire after ignoring warnings to steer clear of the American vessel.

Muthu Muniraj speaks on the phone to his family in India as his friends visit him at a hospital in Dubai, July 17, 2012. Indian fishermen who survived a hail of gunfire from the USNS Rappahannock off the coast of the United Arab Emirates say the US Navy opened fire on their fishing boat without warning. One Indian national was killed and three others injured. REUTERS/Jumana ElHeloueh One Indian was killed and three others injured on Monday when the USNS Rappahannock, a refueling ship, fired on the fishing vessel.

The fishermen, hospitalized with gunshot wounds after the incident near Dubai's Jebel Ali port, said on Tuesday that they received no warning before the U.S. craft opened fire, and that their craft had attempted to avoid any contact with it.

"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 told Reuters from hospital, his legs punctured by the rounds of the U.S. 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."

Muniraj told the Abu Dhabi-based daily The National: "We saw the boat from far. 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. Usually, we know alarms and sirens are sounded by ships. But there were no warnings," he said.

Other members of the boat's crew, which consisted of six Indians and two Emiratis, also said their boat had suddenly come under fire as it returned from trawling for fish in the waters off the port town Jebel Ali.

"We were fishing and then on the way back they started shooting at us, so many shots, like a storm," said 35-year-old Muthu Kannan, who had a gunshot wound to the abdomen and a lower leg wired into place with metal rods.

"This is not the first time for us to go out in the boat and we all know what a warning is," said 26-year-old Pandu Sanadhan. "All I can remember is a lot of shooting."

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

"The boat was in its right course and did not pose any danger"
-Dubai’s police chief
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 Abu Dhabi's The National.

Indian ambassador M.K Lokesh told Reuters after meeting with the fishermen: "Obviously if they were warned they would not go close to such a big vessel. Even if shots were fired in the air, these fishermen would have moved away."

Asked if the Indian government would press for legal charges to be lodged against the U.S. sailors involved, he said: "We have to wait for the inquiry to be completed by the Dubai police before we move any further. But we are pushing for quick completion for the investigations."

"Our embassy in Abu Dhabi is working with local authorities to carry out a full investigation into the circumstances leading to this unfortunate and tragic incident. The acting consul general is in Jebel Ali to provide all necessary assistance," the Indian foreign ministry said in a statement.

Some Indian media appeared to blame the United States for the incident; one television channel ran headlines reading "Murder on the High Seas" and "No Regret, No Apology from America".

Iran said the incident threatened to further destabilize a region already shaken by the international dispute over Tehran's nuclear program.

"We have announced time and again that the presence of foreign forces can be a threat to regional security," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said during a news conference broadcast on state television.

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Muniraj says the US navy started firing at them after their boat crossed the USNS Rappahannock and was heading towards the shore. (Preeti Kannan/The National)

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