Adam Plowright, AFP
Last updated: 17 July, 2012

India asks UAE to look into US killing of fisherman

India called on the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday to investigate the fatal shooting of an Indian fisherman by a US navy ship in waters off Dubai.

Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna called the incident “unfortunate” and said he hoped that “the necessary action will be initiated”.

The government of Dubai “has filed a case against this incident. They are proceeding according to the laws of that country,” Krishna told reporters in the Indian capital.

Foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said India’s ambassador to the oil-rich country “has requested UAE authorities probe the circumstances of the tragic incident”.

New Delhi has been in touch with US agencies and has been promised “a full investigation”, while the US ambassador to New Delhi Nancy Powell had telephoned “to convey her regret for the loss of life”, he added.

Analysts say Washington will be keen to contain any diplomatic damage to its relations with India, which it has been seeking to promote as a key Asian ally to counterbalance Chinese influence and as a new export market for US companies.

One Indian fisherman was killed and three others were wounded on Monday when a US navy ship opened fire on their vessel near the port of Jebel Ali in the tense waters of the southern Gulf.

US defence officials said the fishing boat had ignored warnings not to approach the refuelling ship USNS Rappahannock, and that sailors on board the American vessel feared it could pose a threat.

“Since 2000 we’ve been very concerned about small boats,” a defence official in Washington told AFP, referring to the year of a deadly suicide bomb attack against the destroyer USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden.

The US embassy in the Indian capital issued a statement conveying “its condolences to the families of the crew” of the boat, but said the fishermen had “disregarded non-lethal warnings and rapidly approached the US ship”.

The latest incident has echoes of another shooting that caused a diplomatic spat between Italy and India.

Two Italian marines guarding an oil tanker shot dead two Indian fishermen in February off the coast of the southern Indian state of Kerala.

They have been charged with murder and are on trial in an Indian court despite their claims that the fishermen ignored warnings and approached the tanker suspiciously.

Rome has called the case against the marines illegal and claims they should be prosecuted in their home country because the shootings occurred on an Italian-flagged vessel in international waters.

Relatives of one of the injured fishermen shot on Monday — named as Muniyaraj from southern Tamil Nadu state — said he had gone to Dubai about 10 months ago shortly after getting married.

“I request both the central and state governments to save all of them. Please bring them back and give them good treatment,” the mother of the injured man told reporters in footage aired on local television.

She said the man was her only son and had been “badly injured on both legs”.

The US navy has been building up its forces in the oil-rich Gulf region amid mounting tensions with Iran over its controversial nuclear programme.

Tehran has warned it could close the Strait of Hormuz in the southern Gulf if international sanctions begin to bite, potentially disrupting shipping and world oil supplies through the strategic waterway.

Washington has deployed two aircraft carriers to the region — the USS Abraham Lincoln and the USS Enterprise — and doubled its minesweeper fleet in the area from four to eight ships on June 23.

On Monday the Pentagon confirmed that it had brought forward the deployment of a third strike group, led by the carrier USS John-Stennis, by four months, in order to further bolster its presence.

In October 2000, 17 US sailors were killed when militants in an explosives-laden skiff blew a 30-by-30-foot (10-by-10-metre) hole in the USS Cole in Aden. Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack.