As the ships hove in on the four men adrift in the sea, it looks like it might be a rescue attempt. But it’s the opposite. This 10-minute video posted on YouTube in 2014 is a graphic illustration of how lawless and brutal life at sea can be. The gruesome clip shows what certainly appears to be premeditated murder. Four men are in the water around what look like three fishing boats. And all four are shot dead in a hail of bullets.
In many ways, the horrifying footage raises more questions than it answers. We don’t know when the film was made, what the location is, or who the victims of the shooting are. And in the unregulated world of maritime life in international waters, there’s a good chance we’ll never know.
The footage starts off innocently enough. It’s poor quality, most likely shot with a cell phone. We can see a number of boats in a group, gently wallowing in an ocean swell. After a couple of minutes, though, things become much more sinister as the ships seem to converge on a single spot.
Men talk excitedly in the background. It’s a clear, sunny day with good visibility. The shaky camera focuses in one spot, where there’s what might be an oil slick on the surface of the water. Then we can see a man in the water, raising his hands.
We hear the crack of a couple of shots. It’s impossible to tell whether they’re from a rifle or pistol. Spray flies up where the bullets hit the water near the floating – and very much alive – man. More shots come, peppering the ocean close to him. Then one hits him. Suddenly, he’s still, and an expanding bloom of red surrounds him.
The camera pans and we then see some wreckage in the water. It looks like timber, probably part of a stricken boat. The gunman – or perhaps men – start firing at the wreckage, which might be about 15 feet across. Now two more men appear in the water, one clinging to a piece of wreckage, the other holding on to a white float nearby.
The firing continues. The man with the float tries to swim away from the source of the gunfire. Shots continue to hit the water close to him. Then at least one bullet hits him, and blood spreads in the water around him as he releases his grip on the float.
He’s certainly been hit – the spreading cloud of blood attests to that – but he’s still moving in the water. The shots continue, but the man is no longer in frame. Now the shots are concentrated on the piece of wreckage. There’s a third man clinging on to it and getting some cover from it.
The shots pause for a moment before the camera returns to the man who had the float. There’s more blood in the water. He doesn’t appear to be moving any longer. We return to the man on the wreckage. It has twisted around in the ocean currents now so he is much more exposed to the gunfire.
More shots ring out. It’s hard to say what the distance between the target and the shooter or shooters is. But it’s presumably difficult to be accurate because the moving swell of the sea. The man on the wreckage is right in the line of fire now.
Now we see blood again. The man has clearly been hit, but still has the strength to cling on to the wreckage. More blood appears. He’s now struggling to maintain his grip. Another shot hits him and he falls backwards.
Somehow, he manages to get back on the wreckage. We can now see that the boat is close by. Shockingly, we hear a cackle of laughter in the background. The shooting resumes, then the man falls back from the wreckage and floats helplessly. We hear more laughter in the background.
Finally, the men on the boats spot a fourth man in the water. He is quickly dispatched with a few shots as a now all-too-familiar red cloud spreads out around his body, face down in the water. It’s a brutal scene. But who were these four men? Pirates? Rival fishermen? Mutinous crew members? It seems more than likely that we’ll never know for sure.
After the bloodshed has finally ended, a group of five or six distinctly cheerful men is seen on the deck of the ship from where the footage has been filmed. They smile, laugh, and pose for selfies. Chillingly, they seem to be completely unconcerned by the carnage they have just witnessed – and perhaps participated in.
Extraordinarily, it seems that this video was posted to YouTube after it was found on a mobile phone which had been left in a taxi in Fiji. The film, titled “Fishing vessel Fijian crew getting shot, out side fiji waters” (sic), was uploaded on August 17, 2014 by a user called “commonkingssavou.” Both the footage and the user can no longer be found on YouTube.
One of the boats seen in the video was seemingly based in Taiwan. But when the Taiwanese fishing authorities interviewed the captain, he remained tight-lipped about what had happened. The Taiwanese authorities said that they believe the shootings were the result of a failed pirate attack.
But marine security specialists told the New York Times that piracy was sometimes used as a pretext for settling scores or disputes between rival fishing crews. And because no one knew where the incident took place – or even who the victims were – it was unclear as to which nation, if any, might lead an investigation.
Klaus Luhta, an attorney for an international mariners union, told the New York Times, “Summary execution, vigilantism, overzealous defense – call it what you will – this boils down just the same to a case of murder at sea and a question of why it’s allowed to happen.”
In July 2015, it was reported that investigators in Fiji had only been able to conclude that the incident had happened in the vast waters of the Indian Ocean. Police based in Fiji’s capital, Suva, had closed the case, with no facts established. It was thought that the incident probably occurred in 2012 or 2013.
It now seems that we will never know who the murdered men were, who shot them and what the motivation for this gruesome crime was. Despite the dozens of witnesses aboard the four ships – as well as this graphic and chilling footage – the real truth about this horrible event will most likely remain with the murderers.