India seeks answers over fisherman's death

July 18, 2012 at 6:30 AM
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NEW DELHI, July 18 (UPI) -- India said it is working with authorities in Dubai and the United States over the death of an Indian fisherman around 10 miles off the United Arab Emirates coast.

India's External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna sent his condolences to the family of the fisherman, as yet not named, who was shot in a confrontation with a U.S. Navy vessel, a report in The Hindu newspaper said.

"We are in touch with our envoys in Dubai and the United States and we have instructed them to take it up with the respective governments," Krishna said.

"It is unfortunate that an Indian fisherman has been killed," he said during a news conference with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin in New Delhi. "On behalf of the government of India, I send my condolences over the death. We have earnestly taken up the matter."

Three other Indians were critically wounded in the incident when the crew of the USNS Rappahannock fired on a small motor vessel that the Navy said ignored warnings as it rapidly approached the U.S. ship.

The incident happened at around 3 p.m. Monday near the Persian Gulf port of Jebel Ali, around 20 miles south of Dubai City and home to many foreign companies operating out of a duty-free zone.

Jebel Ali also is used by visiting navies, in particular the U.S. Navy, because its deep-water harbor is able to accommodate some of the largest ships such as aircraft carriers.

The Hindu report said U.S. Ambassador to India Nancy Powell telephoned India's Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai to convey her regret for the loss of life and assured that the U.S. government would conduct a full investigation.

The 677-foot Rappahannock is a Henry J. Kaiser class underway replenishment oiler operated by the Military Sealift Command to supply fuel to the Navy's vessels during operations.

The Rappahannock has at least one .50-caliber machine gun for protection.

A report by The Wall Street Journal quoted Lt. Greg Raelson, a spokesman for the Navy's 5th Fleet, saying the safety of U.S. vessels and personnel come first.

"The safety of our vessels and our personnel is our utmost priority," he said.

"Our ships have an inherent right of self-defense against potential threats. In this situation you had a small motor vessel that was deliberately approaching and did not respond to any warnings."

The U.S. Navy changed its rules of engagement after the attack on the destroyer U.S. Cole off the coast of Yemen in October 2000. A suicide attack on the Cole during a refueling stop in the port of Aden blew a large hole in the ship at its waterline, killing 17 sailors.

Al-Qaida claimed responsibility for the attack by the crew of a small motor vessel that approached the ship during the refueling operation.

Before the Cole incident, naval personnel were to fire only when first fired upon.

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