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Indian fisherman: No warning before Gulf shooting

By Adam Schreck

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, July 17 2012 7:05 a.m. MDT

Emirati police and other officials inspect a boat docked in a fishing harbor in the Jumeirah district of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Monday, July 16, 2012. A U.S. official in Dubai says an American vessel has fired on a boat off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, killing one person and injuring three. The official gave no further details, but it appears the boat could have been mistaken as a threat in Gulf waters not far from Iran's maritime boundaries.

Almoutasim Almaskery, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — 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.

One Indian was killed in the incident, and three of his countrymen were seriously wounded.

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

The shooting happened Monday afternoon when a small boat rapidly approached the refueling ship USNS Rappahannock about 10 miles (15 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.

The white-hulled boat appeared to be a civilian vessel about 30 feet (9 meters) long and powered by three outboard motors. It had no obvious military markings. 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 fishermen. 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. We are waiting to see what happened."

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.

The Indian ambassador also said the three injured men were recovering in a Dubai hospital. "They're out of danger," he said.

It was not immediately possible to reach the fishermen directly.

The U.S. ambassador to India, Nancy Powell, has expressed regret for the loss of life and assured Indian officials that the U.S. government will conduct a full investigation.

India has separately asked the United Arab Emirates to investigate the incident, Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna said Tuesday.

Tariq Ahmed al-Haidan, political affairs assistant to the UAE Foreign Minister, has said relevant UAE authorities are working to determine what happened.

Lt. Greg Raelson, a spokesman for the Navy's Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, declined to say what types of warnings the Rappahannock's crew issued before opening fire, though he said that they acted in line with standard procedures.

"U.S. ships have an inherent right to self-defense against potential threats. The U.S. crew repeatedly attempted to warn the vessel's operators to turn away from their deliberate approach," he said.

The incident comes during a period of heightened tensions in the Gulf between the United States and Iran, which lies just across the Gulf from the UAE.

The Gulf federation, which includes the commercial hub of Dubai and the oil-rich capital Abu Dhabi, is a key American ally in the Gulf. American warships frequently visit Jebel Ali port, a popular rest stop among U.S. sailors.

Tensions are high 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 Iran's nuclear program.

The U.S. recently boosted its naval presence in the Gulf with additional minesweepers and other warships. The Pentagon said Monday it is sending another aircraft carrier to the Middle East several months early to ensure it has two carriers continuously in the region.

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

Associated Press writer Nirmala George contributed reporting from New Delhi.

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