Authorities in several countries are examining a graphic video posted online that shows five men floating amid bits of a small upturned boat and being shot by laughing crew members of a larger vessel.
In the video, gunshots ring out as helpless men in the water desperately try to cling to remnants of their small boat.
The grainy video uploaded to the YouTube website this week, is titled "Fishing vessel fijian crew gettin shot, out side fiji waters" (sic).
But authorities in the Pacific islands nation of Fiji, including its navy, say the men seen being struck by gunfire and profusely bleeding in the water are not Fijians.
Interpol tells VOA News that its general secretariat headquarters in France “is working with several member countries to help determine the veracity of the video content, including its likely date, location and the identities of those involved.”
Specialists in several countries, who have examined the video, speculate the distressed men in the water, who presumably were all killed, were likely from the east African coast or the Arabian Gulf area.
David Hammond, founder of the non-governmental organization Human Rights at Sea and a veteran maritime lawyer, has reviewed the video. He calls what he witnessed “an entirely unlawful summary execution of five men.”
“There is no doubt in my mind that the footage is real," said Hammond. "The context and the time, as in when the footage was taken, actually is secondary to the issue that there have been criminal acts of homicide that have taken place from a registered commercial fishing vessel in international waters.”
On the 10-minute video three larger vessels are seen circling the smaller.
One can be identified: the Seychelles-flagged Taiwan-owned Chun 1 No. 217. Maritime databases list that vessel as a 725-ton fishing boat with a home port of Kaohsiung and managed by the Tching Ye Fishery in the same city.
The vessel is known to operate in the Western Pacific and Indian oceans. But its current whereabouts are unknown.
In the video, men onboard one of the vessels can be heard laughing. They are seen taking close-up photos on their mobile phones of the bodies floating face down in the water.
There are snippets of conversations in Mandarin, Cantonese, Vietnamese, Thai and other languages.
A man, speaking in Mandarin, says, “He is floating over.” A voice in Cantonese replies “hurry up.”
While there has been speculation that the men in the water may have been pirates following a failed hijacking, authorities with whom VOA News has spoken say based on what is seen on the video it is more likely they were fishermen from an un-flagged small boat.
Retired British Royal Marines front-line officer Hammond says although the identity of who fired the shots and the others on the deck may never be known, the master of the vessel faces liability.
“The master of the vessel would be a ticketed captain or should be a ticketed captain who is registered with the ship owner," said Hammond. "So his identity should be much easier to find out.”
Media reports quoting Fijian police sources say a university student found the video on a mobile phone left by an Asian fishing boat crewman in a taxi in Fiji’s capital city, Suva.
Interpol says it will have no further comment “until the facts have been established and the video content has been verified.”