Families suffer as shot men slowly heal

Families of survivors struggling to make ends meet at home in India as men are recovering from US navy shooting that occurred last summer. UAE Federal Prosecutors are still investigating the matter as men maintain that no warning shots have been fired.

Fishermen Pandu Sanadhan (left) and Muthu Muniraj are recovering at their accommodation inside the Dubai Offshore sailing Club after being shot at by the US navy
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DUBAI // Two of the Indian fishermen wounded when the US navy fired on their boat off Dubai in July are limping their way to recovery, as their families at home sink into debt and depression.

"We have been advised to wait for two more months by the Indian consulate," said Muthu Muniraj, 28, balancing on his better foot.

"The real problem is money. My family is taking loans now since we have no money to send them."

Mr Muniraj, Muthu Kannan, 35, and Pandu Sanadhan, 26, were injured when the USNS Rappahannock opened fire on their boat with a heavy machinegun, about 16 kilometres off Jebel Ali.

Their friend Arumugam Sekar, 29, was killed instantly. Two others, Kumaresan and Murugan, escaped without injury.

The five men had appealed to Public Prosecution for permission to travel to India for medical treatment and to be with their families.

The Attorney General at the Federal Courts in Abu Dhabi is investigating the incident and the men's passports are with the UAE authorities.

"The consulate says it's better for us to wait for the case to end but all we want is to return home," said Mr Sanadhan, who was shot in the legs.

"Since we have no regular salary I am not able to send my wife and children anything. They are finding it difficult to survive."

Back in Tamil Nadu, Mr Kannan's wife said her family was struggling to make ends meet.

"My mother and I have started working on a construction site so we can manage the household expenses," said Rajathi M. "Since my husband got injured there is no income. I haven't paid my children's school fees for four months."

She said their youngest daughter, aged 5, had been traumatised by the shooting.

"My daughter was in shock for several days after she saw the news on television that her father had been shot," Ms Rajathi said.

"She stopped playing with other children at her school. We had to admit her in the hospital for a few days.

"She kept talking to her father by phone and slowly recovered. I hope he can come back home for a few days at least."

In August, the injured men's families were paid compensation of 50,000 rupees (Dh3,300) by the US government, while Sekar's family received Dh33,000. The amounts matched payouts from the Tamil Nadu state.

The fishermen say they have not been receiving regular wages from their Emirati sponsor and captain of the boat.

The Indian Embassy paid the men some money to keep them going in August and has promised more soon.

"We are there to ensure they won't starve," said MK Lokesh, the Indian ambassador. "The UAE authorities say they have nearly completed the investigations."

The US naval oil-supply vessel fired as the fishing boat was returning to port with the six Indians and two Emiratis.

Although the US navy said it fired warning shots before the incident, the fishermen have maintained there were no warnings.