Fishermen `to blame for piracy death'

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The Independent Online
A MAN reportedly killed by pirates off the coast of Somalia could actually have been attacked by fishermen, it was claimed yesterday.

The yacht on which Alan McLean was sailing might have interfered with fishing nets when it strayed too close to the shore, said the spokesman for the dead man's family, Frank Doran, MP for Aberdeen Central, where the dead man lived.

The claim follows a letter sent to the British consul in Aden, Yemen, from the Somalian representative in the country which stressed that pirates might not have been involved in the attack and Mr McLean's boat was sailing closer to shore than previously claimed.

In the letter, the Somalian consul in Yemen claimed to have heard reports of an incident involving a French yacht earlier this month during which shots were fired.

The Somalian consul said that the French boat was sailing close to shore between the towns of Hardlys and Ras Hafoon when it was ordered to stop, but the skipper refused to do so and moved further offshore.

A fast Somalian boat was then launched and locals reported gunfire, but were unable to say who fired first. A Somalian man was reported to be in hospital following the incident.

"The consul stressed that it was not necessarily pirates who attacked the vessel," said Mr Doran. "It may well have interfered with fishing nets near the shore. This puts the statement given by the captain in a different light and points to further inconsistencies in it. He had claimed to be sailing at least five or six mile off-shore during the incident."

Mr Doran said that the family were aware the letter from the consul could not be verified, but they were encouraged by his interest in their son's death.

"This is a very positive development for the family, as it is the first independent evidence of what happened," he said. "They are aware this is evidence which has not been substantiated, but are happy it has come forward."

The consul is understood to have relatives in the police force near to where the incident is reported to have taken place and has promised to investigate further.

In a separate development, the MP said the Correlation, the yacht on which Mr McLean was sailing, had left Aden today and was believed to be sailing for Marseilles, in the South of France. "Obviously the family would have preferred it if the boat had stayed where it was but it comes as no great surprise to them," said Mr Doran.

He added that the McLeans hoped this would allow the French authorities to mount their own investigation. "The assumption is that the Yemenis did not have the legal authority to make [the yacht] stay," he said.

All of Mr McLean's personal belongings were with the British Consulate in Aden, he said.

Mr McLean was reported to have been killed at sea on 11 September and the Yemeni Maritime Police were notified five days later. Yesterday, Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, made a formal request to the French government to investigate the death.

Mr McLean's family have suggested that the accounts of the skipper of the yacht, Philippe Sorel, have been inconsistent and they have called for a full investigation.