Injured Indian fishermen seek compensation from Pentagon after shooting

DUBAI Wed Feb 19, 2014 7:01pm IST

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DUBAI (Reuters) - Three Indian fishermen injured when a U.S. naval ship fired on their boat off the United Arab Emirates in 2012 are launching a civil case against the Pentagon to seek compensation, their lawyers said on Wednesday.

One Indian was killed and the three others injured when the USNS Rappahannock, a refuelling ship, fired on the fishing vessel, which the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet said approached at high speed and ignored repeated warnings.

One of the fishermen, Muthu Kannan, said he suffered a gunshot wound to the abdomen and had his lower leg wired into place with metal rods, but was able to return to work in Dubai.

"The others with me were really badly injured and are still unemployed in India," he told Reuters.

The fishermen said at the time of the July 2012 incident they received no warning before the U.S. vessel opened fire, and that their craft had attempted to avoid any contact with it.

A spokesman for the U.S. Fifth Fleet said at the time non-lethal measures were taken while attempting to signal to the vessel, which did not respond. The security team then fired, he said.

The spokesman said its ships had the inherent right to self defence. The incident took place at time when tensions were high in the Gulf, as U.S. forces expanded their presence to ramp up pressure on Iran over its nuclear programme.

The United States has been particularly wary of attacks on its ships since two al Qaeda suicide bombers rammed an explosives-laden boat into the USS Cole in 2000 off Yemen. blowing a massive hole in its side and killing 17 U.S. sailors.

The lawsuit was registered against the Pentagon in a Dubai court in January and the first hearing was held on Monday, but lawyers representing the fishermen only gave details of the case this week.

The U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi had no immediate comment.

The lawyers said they had asked the court to appoint a maritime expert to examine the case.

"We have filed a civil case asking for an expert to go through the details of (the) incident and prepare a report. This would help us to take the case forward and seek compensation from (the) Pentagon," said Massuma al-Sayegh, lawyer for the Dubai-based Dar Al Balagh Advocates and Legal Consultants.

"This is the first step in this case," she added.

Uday Al Kazwini, another lawyer from the firm representing the fishermen, said U.S. authorities did not compensate or provide any medical assistance to the fishermen.

The next hearing was set for March 19.

The Indian Consulate in Dubai made no immediate comment.

(Reporting by Praveen Menon; and Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Alison Williams)

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