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Fiji navy says high seas 'shooting victims' not locals

Fiji's navy said Wednesday (Aug 20) it was confident an online video claiming to show fishermen being shot dead at sea did not involve its citizens, amid speculation the apparent victims were Somali pirates.

SUVA, Fiji: Fiji's navy said Wednesday (Aug 20) it was confident an online video claiming to show fishermen being shot dead at sea did not involve its citizens, amid speculation the apparent victims were Somali pirates.

The 10-minute video posted on YouTube this week shows four men clinging to what appears to be an upturned boat as gunmen on at least three vessels circling around them open fire, eventually killing all of them. It was posted under the title "Fishing vessel fijian crew gettin shot, out side fiji waters" but there is nothing in the footage that shows when or where the apparent killings took place.

Fiji naval commander John Fox said inquiries had confirmed the victims were not from the South Pacific nation, where no fishermen have been reported missing recently. "We are aware of the video and we conducted our investigations," Fox told the Fiji Times. "I can't say how we were able to verify the information but I can confirm that they are not Fiji citizens."

Fiji police have asked Interpol, the Australian Federal Police and other Pacific island nations to help establish the veracity of the video.

Fiji is home to a large tuna fishing fleet, with many of the vessels from so-called "distant water" nations with Asian crews who ply the Pacific because it is one of the few regions where stocks, though declining, are still relatively abundant.

Interpreters hired by Television New Zealand (TVNZ) said the languages of those on the video included Mandarin, Thai and Vietnamese, while the markings on one of the boats reportedly identify it as Taiwanese.

Fiji Tuna Boat Owners' Association president Graham Southwick told the broadcaster that indications were that the shooting victims were Somali pirates involved in a failed hijacking. "We checked with all our Taiwanese boats and various things and they said 'oh yeah we know about this story, it happened about a year or 18 months ago and the guys in the water being shot are Somali pirates'," he told TVNZ.

Fishing vessels off the African coast reportedly often hire armed security staff to deter pirates and it is not uncommon for trawlers to move between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. Fairfax New Zealand, citing Fijian police sources, reported that a student found the footage on a mobile phone left in a Suva taxi by an Asian fishing boat crewman.

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