But U.S. Navy claims it was forced to open fire after fishing boat failed to heed warnings

A day after a U.S warship fired on a fishing boat, killing an Indian and injuring three more, a top official of the United Arab Emirates appeared to be contradicting the American version that the smaller vessel was off course and approached the navy ship in a dangerous way.

Download graphic: Murder in mid-sea

“The primary investigation confirms that the boat was in its right course and did not pose any danger. The shooting was clearly a mistake,” Dahi Khalfan Tamim, Dubai’s influential police chief, was quoted as saying by the UAE daily The National.

The U.S. Navy has said that it was forced to open fire as a last resort, after the fishing boat failed to heed an entire protocol of warnings.

The Indian embassy in Abu Dhabi is working with local authorities to carry out a full investigation into the incident. “We have made the request and the UAE authorities have already begun the investigation on their own,” said M.K. Lokesh, Indian ambassador to the UAE.

The probe, jointly favoured by India and the UAE, also appears to have created some dissonance between Abu Dhabi and Washington, though both are close allies.

UAE authorities have already contradicted the core argument of the U.S. version, that the incident took place in international waters, outside the territorial jurisdiction of the Gulf nation.

Contrary to the U.S. position that the event occurred 30 miles (48 km) south-west of Dubai as reported in The New York Times, local authorities maintain that the fishing boat was shot “near the mouth of the Jebel Ali Port in the Emirate of Dubai.”

Official sources, who wished to remain anonymous, said the incident took place at a distance of 16 km off the port of Jebel Ali, well within UAE waters

The incident, which took place on Monday, is acquiring broader international overtones in an area bristling with military tensions on account of the ongoing feud between the United States and Iran.

It appeared to mirror the escalating military tensions in the Gulf, which are rooted in the standoff between the U.S. and Iran over its nuclear programme, and memories of an earlier seaborne al-Qaeda attack, which had blown a 40-foot hole in the American warship, Cole, that had docked in Aden.

The three injured Indian fishermen are out of danger, and recovering at Dubai’s Rashid hospital. Diplomatic sources said they were no longer in the ICU, and had been shifted to the general ward. “They have generally suffered injuries to the back and neck that are not life threatening,” a source said.

The body of the deceased fisherman Sekar is unlikely to be repatriated before post-mortem is conducted in the UAE for purposes of investigation into the incident.

U.S. expresses regret

The U.S. government has officially confirmed that shots fired from its Navy vessel had killed the Indian and injured three more off a Dubai port, said official sources here.

U.S. Ambassador to India Nancy Powell telephoned Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai on Tuesday morning to convey her regret for the loss of life and assured him that the U.S. government would conduct a full investigation.

“We will stay in regular touch with U.S and UAE authorities to ascertain full facts and take appropriate further action in the matter,” said sources in the Ministry of External Affairs.

According to UAE officials, one Indian fisherman was killed in the firing incident and three other Indians were injured.

Krishna condoles death

External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna has condoled with the death of the fisherman and said the Indian envoy in Dubai had informed him that the local authorities filed a case.

“We are in touch with our envoys in Dubai and the U.S. and we have instructed them to take it up with the respective governments,” he said, when asked about the incident at a joint press conference with the visiting Russian Deputy Prime Minister, Dmitry Rogozin, in New Delhi. “It is unfortunate that an Indian fisherman has been killed. On behalf of the government of India, I condole the death. We have taken up the matter.”

More In: National | News