Published July 16, 2012
A U.S. Navy ship fired “disabling shots” at a small vessel that came too close to it in the Persian Gulf region, killing one and injuring three, officials told Fox News.
The incident happened Monday within maritime borders of the United Arab Emirates near Jebel Ali, a port town 35 kilometers southwest of Dubai. The town is near the Strait of Hormuz, a key regional oil route that Iran has repeatedly threatened to block over sanctions against its nuclear program.
The USNS Rappahannock fired shots from a .50 caliber machine gun because the operator of the small U.A.E. flagged vessel ignored audible and visual signals to move away, two senior U.S. defense officials told Fox News.
The Rappahannock is a large, civilian operated oil tanker that fuels other Navy ships at sea.
After the firing, dozens of police and other Emirati officials crowded around the white-hulled boat, which sat docked in a small Dubai port used by fishermen and sailors.
The vessel appeared to be about 50 feet long and powered by three outboard motors. Similar boats are used for fishing in the region, though Iran's Revolutionary Guard also employs relatively small, fast-moving craft in the Gulf.
Of the four Indian passengers on board, one was killed and three others were injured. Two Emiratis, who were also on board, were uninjured. The injured are being treated at a local hospital while police in Dubai inspect the boat.
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. Navy's 5th Fleet, based in Bahrain, said it was investigating the Monday shooting. The U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi had no immediate comment, referring all questions to the Navy.
Emirati officials, along with the Navy's Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS), are conducting a joint investigation.
Emirati officials could not be reached for comment.
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.
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 Tehran's nuclear program. The U.S. recently boosted its naval presence in the Gulf with additional minesweepers and other warships.
The U.S. said Monday that it’s sending an aircraft carrier to the Middle East several months early to make sure two will constantly be present in the troubled region.
There are two aircraft carriers in the area currently, but one was scheduled to leave before its replacement arrived.
Defense Department press secretary George Little says the USS John C. Stennis will be sent by late summer to fill the gap that would have occurred.
Questioned about whether the deployment is a response to problems with Iran or perhaps the violence in Syria, he declined to be specific.
Little said the need is "not about any one particular country or any one particular threat."
Fox News’ Justin Fishel, Jennifer Griffin and the Associated Press contributed to this report.