DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) - U.S. Navy gunners aboard a
refueling ship opened fire on a small boat racing toward them in
broad daylight Monday near the Gulf city of Dubai, killing one
person and injuring three.
The rare shooting not far from approaches to the Strait of
Hormuz comes at a period of heightened tensions between the United
States and nearby Iran.
A UAE official said the vessel was a fishing boat. It was
unclear why it might have veered so close to an armed American
There was no immediate sign of Iranian involvement, or any
indication that the incident was a reprise of al-Qaida's 2000
bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen. But the incident will likely
focus further attention on the risks American vessels face in the
Gulf even as the Navy beefs up its presence in the region.
Lt. Greg Raelson, a spokesman for the Navy's Bahrain-based 5th
Fleet, said a security team aboard the USNS Rappahannock issued a
series of warnings before resorting to lethal force about 10 miles
(15 kilometers) off the coast of Dubai's Jebel Ali port.
"The U.S. crew repeatedly attempted to warn the vessel's
operators to turn away from their deliberate approach. When those
efforts failed to deter the approaching vessel, the security team
on the Rappahannock fired rounds from a .50-caliber machine gun,"
Raelson said the incident, which happened at 2:50 p.m. local
time, is under investigation.
The Rappahannock is an oiler used to fuel other Navy ships while
they are at sea.
The United Arab Emirates, which includes the commercial hub of
Dubai and the oil-rich capital Abu Dhabi, is a key American ally in
the Gulf. American warships frequently visit Jebel Ali port, a
popular rest stop among U.S. sailors.
A U.S. consular official told The Associated Press that one
person was killed and three wounded in the shooting.
The official gave no other details, but it appeared that Navy
personnel could have seen the boat - mistakenly or not - as a
threat in Gulf waters not far from Iran's maritime boundaries. The
official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity
of the incident between the two allies.
Tariq Ahmed al-Haidan, political affairs assistant to the UAE
Foreign Minister, confirmed the number of dead and injured.
He said in a brief statement to the UAE's official news agency
WAM that all were Indian citizens, and they were on board a fishing
boat when they came under fire. Emirati authorities are
investigating the incident, he added.
The white-hulled boat was inspected by dozens of police officers
and other Emirati officials after the incident in a small Dubai
harbor used by fishermen and recreational sailors.
The boat appeared to be a civilian vessel about 30 feet (9
meters) long and powered by three outboard motors. It had no
obvious military markings.
Similar boats are used for fishing in the region, though Iran's
Revolutionary Guard also employs relatively small, fast-moving
craft in the Gulf.
Rescue workers were seen carrying one person in a body bag off
the boat and placing it in an ambulance as fishermen looked on.
Officials moved the boat from the harbor shortly afterward.
The U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi had no immediate comment,
referring all questions to the Navy.
U.S. military vessels routinely cross paths with Iranian ships
in international waters in the Gulf without incident, but speed
boats from Iran's Revolutionary Guard have passed close to U.S.
ships in incidents that have raised alarm in Washington.
In early 2008, then President Bush accused Iran of a
"provocative act" after five small Iranian craft buzzed around
the destroyer USS Hopper.
Theodore Karasik, a security expert at the Dubai-based Institute
for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, did not rule out Iranian
involvement in Monday's shooting.
"There are certain factions within the Iranian political
universe who are seeking a fight. And this is one way in which to
do it," he said.
Karasik noted there have been no known attacks so close to Jebel
Ali, which is seen as a secure port in the region. He suggested
that the incident might have been a way for Iranian forces to test
U.S. defenses, though he acknowledged it was too early to know for
Tensions are elevated in the Gulf after Iran last week renewed
threats to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz - the route for
one-fifth of the world's oil - in retaliation for tighter sanctions
over Iran's nuclear program.
The U.S. recently boosted its naval presence in the Gulf with
additional minesweepers and other warships. The Pentagon said
Monday it is sending another aircraft carrier to the Middle East
several months early to ensure it has two carriers continuously in