Gulf tension rises after US naval ‘lethal force’ leave one dead in boat
A US NAVY supply ship opened fire on a small boat racing toward it yesterday near the Gulf city of Dubai, killing at least one person, according to American officials.
Lieutenant Greg Raelson, a spokesman for the US Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, said a security team aboard the USNS Rappahannock issued a series of warnings before resorting to lethal force near Dubai’s Jebel Ali port.
“The US 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-calibre machine gun,” he said.
The Rappahannock is an oiler used to fuel other 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 Dubai’s Jebel Ali port, a popular rest stop among US sailors.
Dubai officials said that one person was killed and three were wounded in the shooting.
Officials gave no other details, but it appeared that US personnel could have seen the boat – mistakenly or not – as a threat in Gulf waters not far from Iran’s maritime boundaries.
The white-hulled boat was inspected by dozens of police and other Emirati officials after the incident in a small Dubai port used by fishermen and sailors.
The boat appeared to be a civilian vessel about 30 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.
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 removed the boat from the harbour shortly afterward.
Another UAE official familiar with the incident said authorities “are looking into the matter and will be issuing a report.”
US 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 American ships in incidents that have raised alarm in Washington.
In early 2008, the then President George Bush accused Iran of a “provocative act” after five small Iranian craft buzzed 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 Iran’s nuclear programme.
“The message to Iran is, ‘Don’t even think about it’,” a senior US defence official told the New York Times earlier this month. “Don’t even think about closing the strait. We’ll clear the mines. Don’t even think about sending your fast boats out to harass our vessels or commercial shipping. We’ll put them on the bottom of the Gulf.”
Earlier yesterday, Washington announced it was sending an additional aircraft carrier to the Middle East several months early to make sure at least two carriers will constantly be present in the region.
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