U.S. Navy to Deal With Fishermen Shooting Fallout

Mike Schuler
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July 17, 2012

The Military Sealift Command fleet replenishment oiler USNS Rappahannock

The Indian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday called on the UAE and U.S. government to conduct a full investigation into Monday’s fatal shooting off the coast of Jebel Ali, UAE while also offering condolences to the fishermen and families affected by the unfortunate incident.

As gCaptain reported yesterday, a U.S. Navy security detail assigned to the Navy supply ship USNS Rappahannock fired shots from its .50 caliber machine gun at an approaching motor boat after the vessel ignored verbal, radio and even warning shots to move away. It was later determined that the motor boat in question was a fishing boat owned by a UAE company and had an Indian crew. Tragically, one fisherman was killed and three others were injured as result.

In response to the unfortunate shooting, India’s Ministry Ministry of External Affairs has released the following statement:

“The U.S. Government has officially confirmed that a U.S. Navy vessel fired shots at a fishing vessel near the port of Jebel Ali, Dubai at about 3.00 PM UAE local time on 16 July 2012. According to UAE officials, one Indian fisherman was killed in the firing incident and three other Indians were injured. We are deeply saddened by the loss of life of the Indian fisherman and the injuries sustained by the others. Our thoughts are with their families.

Our Embassy in Washington D.C. has been in touch with the United States Government since midnight IST yesterday. Our Embassy in Abu Dhabi is working with local authorities to carry out 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 U.S. Ambassador to India Nancy Powell telephoned Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai this morning to convey her regret for the loss of life and assured that the U.S. Government would conduct full investigation.

The U.S. navy remains adamant that the shooting was warranted (and well documented), saying in a statement:

“In accordance with Navy force protection procedures, the sailors on the USNS Rappahannock (T-AO 204) used a series of non-lethal, preplanned responses to warn the vessel before resorting to lethal force.”

According to reports, the shots were fired when the boat approached to within 100 to 200 yards of the Rappahannock.

On the other hand, however, a surviving fisherman has told officials that the crew received no warning before being fired upon, India’s ambassador to the United Arab Emirates said on Tuesday.

UPDATE: An account of the incident has been well documented by the United States Central Command in a report obtained by the USNI blog.

Heightened Alert

Earlier this month, the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence issued a maritime warning in the region, specifically for the Gulf of Oman, North Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden, and the Bab el Mandeb regions.

“Be advised, elevated regional tensions have increased the risk of potential maritime attacks being conducted by extremists,” the statement read. “Vessels at anchor, operating in restricted maneuvering environments, or at slow speeds should especially be at heightened states of awareness for any suspicious activity.”

Going back even further, U.S. Navy ships are sensitive to being approached by other vessels after the destroyer USS Cole was bombed by a suicide attack boat in Yemen in October 2000.


Not another ‘Enrica Lexie’

The incident comes as India is moving ahead with the criminal trial of two Italian marines assigned to a security detail on board the Italian-flagged Enrica Lexie.  In that incident, the marines opened fire on an Indian fishing trawler they had mistaken for pirates attacking their vessel. The shooting marked the first time innocent civilians were killed at the hands of an embarked security team.

Unlike the Enrica Lexie incident, however, the shooting involving Rappahannock is VERY different.  The USNS Rappahannock, operating as part of the Military Sealift Command, is a government vessel and will likely become more of a diplomatic issue, pending results of what actually happened, than a civil or criminal one as in the case of the Enrica Lexie.

Read: USNS Rappahannock is not the Enrica Lexie

Iran Butting In Rappahannock

Not surprisingly, Iran on Tuesday criticised the actions taken by the U.S. navy ship, saying the incident showed foreign forces threatened regional security.

“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.

“Certainly regional countries with the help of one another can provide security in the best possible way. If they join hands, with their defensive capabilities, they don’t need the presence of foreign forces. Anywhere where you see insecurity we have always seen the hand of foreign forces there.” – Reuters

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