The Nordic Fighter tanker was sailing south in the Red Sea under oppressive summer heat as Mohammed Ali Quanas headed west to catch kingfish on Aug. 3, 2011, the last day of his life.

Dressed in a blue t-shirt and a traditional Yemeni red patterned skirt, Quanas began cooking the evening meal for the seven other men in the narrow, rented skiff as the sun leaned toward the horizon. With the gap narrowing between the skiff and the massive black tanker, some 25 times the length and width of their red, white and blue motor boat, they say they curved away to the northwest to keep their usual distance from merchant vessels, as did two other fishing skiffs working nearby from their home port of Hodeidah, Yemen.

From 500 meters (1,640 feet) away, gunshots erupted from the tanker toward Quanas’s skiff and its unarmed fishermen. Two rounds pierced the water on the motorboat’s starboard side, and a third slammed into Quanas’s face, just under his right eye, according to survivors on the boat and a Yemeni Coast Guard investigation. As the bullet came through the back of his neck, Quanas moaned, held out a hand, collapsed and died.

“He was killed while he was holding some dough for dinner, says Quanas’s uncle, Hasan Abdullah Quanas, who was in the prow and saw his nephew fall. Hasan abandoned fishing after the shooting for fear that he too could become collateral damage in the increasingly violent fight to tame piracy on the high seas.

“I still have nightmares that someone is firing at me, he says.

Russian soldiers aboard the Norwegian-flagged ship fired the bullets that August day, according to a report from a private security team that was also on the tanker. The soldiers had been temporarily assigned to the Nordic Fighter by their country’s navy to protect the vessel as part of a Russia-led convoy navigating toward the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden, which some 23,000 ships use to move goods between Europe and Asia annually. Yemen’s coast guard confirmed there were no weapons on Quanas’s boat, but one of the other boats had guns aboard that the fishermen were authorized to carry.

Quanas, who was about 38 when he died, is one of at least seven Yemeni fishermen who have been shot and among five killed since 2009 by soldiers assigned to deter pirates, according to records supplied by the Arabian Peninsula nation. The incidents remain publicly unreported and the shooters unprosecuted, officials say.

The deaths are the product of a sharp increase in the use of weapons to fight Indian Ocean piracy, which is estimated to cost up to $6.9 billion a year, combined with allegations of fear and recklessness by guards in distinguishing fishermen from pirates.

“It’s inevitable that when you have people with guns who are disconnected from the sea and are afraid, and with a crew that is afraid, they will make mistakes, says John Boreman, marine director for the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners (Intertanko), an industry trade group.

Navies from at least 22 countries have actively tried to counter Somali piracy since 2008, responding to distress calls, intercepting suspect vessels and escorting merchant ships through the Gulf of Aden.

Since last year, commercial ships have hired a fast-growing number of private armed guards as an added deterrent. About 30 percent of the ships that registered transits in August with the European Union’s Maritime Security Center – Horn of Africa reported having armed security aboard, up from about 4 percent in Feb. 2011, the first month for which the center has data.

2012 Bloomberg L.P.