A video shows at least four unarmed men being gunned down in the water. Despite dozens of witnesses, the killings went unreported and remain a mystery.
SHARJAH KHALID PORT, United Arab Emirates — The man bobbing in the sea raises his arms in a seeming sign of surrender before he is shot in the head. He floats face down as his blood stains the blue water.
A slow-motion slaughter unfolds over the next 6 minutes and 58 seconds. Three other men floating in the ocean, some clinging to what looks like the wreckage of an overturned wooden boat, are surrounded by several large white tuna longliners. The sky above is clear and blue; the sea below, dark and choppy. As the ships’ engines idle loudly, at least 40 rounds are fired as the unarmed men are methodically picked off.
“Shoot, shoot, shoot!” commands a voice over one of the ship’s loudspeakers as the final man is killed. Soon after, a group of men on deck who appear to be crew members laugh among themselves, then pose for selfies.
Despite dozens of witnesses on at least four ships, those killings remain a mystery. No one even reported the incident — there is no requirement to do so under maritime law nor any clear method for mariners, who move from port to port, to volunteer what they know. Law enforcement officials learned of the deaths only after a video of the killings was found on a cellphone left in a taxi in Fiji last year, then posted on the Internet.
With no bodies, no identified victims and no exact location of where the shootings occurred, it is unclear which, if any, government will take responsibility for leading an investigation. Taiwanese fishing authorities, who based on the video connected a fishing boat from Taiwan to the scene but learned little from the captain, say they believe the dead men were part of a failed pirate attack. But maritime security experts, warning that piracy has become a convenient cover for sometimes fatal score-settling, said it is just as likely that the men were local fishermen in disputed waters, mutinied crew, castoff stowaways or thieves caught stealing fish or bait.
“Summary execution, vigilantism, overzealous defense, call it what you will,” said Klaus Luhta, a lawyer with the International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots, a seafarers’ union. “This boils down just the same to a case of murder at sea and a question of why it’s allowed to happen.”