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Tue 9 Apr 2013 09:05 AM

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US sailors cleared over fatal shooting in Dubai waters

Investigation rulers that sailors acted within rules of engagement despite death of fisherman

US sailors cleared over fatal shooting in Dubai waters
(Getty Images - for illustrative purposes only)

A US Navy investigation has ruled sailors who fired on a small boat approaching at high speed off the coast of Dubai last year, killing an Indian fisherman and injuring three others, acted within the rules of engagement.

The Navy said a gunner aboard the supply vessel Rappahannock opened fire with a .50-caliber weapon moments before the order was given to begin "destructive fire" but it was deemed to be “self-defence in response to a hostile act or demonstrated hostile intent", according to US newspapers that have sited the report.

Warning shots of .50-caliber tracers had been fired and a laser device had been used as the 50-foot fishing boat headed toward the bow of the Rappahannock at 28 knots, about 16 kilometres off Jebel Ali port, the investigation, which involved UAE authorities, found.

However, an Indian fisherman aboard the civilian boat told authorities at the time that the crew did not receive any warning signs.

Dubai's police chief Lt Gen Dahi Khalfan Tamim also said an initial investigation suggested the fishing boat was "in its right course and did not pose any danger" and described the shooting as an apparent mistake.

The incident, in July last year, set-off a diplomatic row between the US and India, which called on the UAE to separately investigate.

US Navy officials described the incident as "regrettable" but found the boat was approaching so fast it was reasonable for the Rappahannock's security team to assess that it “represented an imminent threat and was demonstrating hostile intent" and the "use of force was appropriate".

It came within 23 metres of the Rappahannock, the Navy says.

"Due to the high speed and short distances, the entire event occurred in less than two minutes, limiting the ability of the ship to employ other warning methods," a Navy statement says.

The incident occurred at a time of increased security in the waters of the Gulf amid heightened tensions between the US and Iran and a number of on-board attacks in recent years.

The US gave the killed Indian fisherman's family 500,000 rupees (AED33,830) compensation and 50,000 rupees to the injured men.

Four other men – two Indian and two Emiratis – were unharmed in the boat's cabin.

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