U.S. chartered ship fires on small vessel
Stars and Stripes March 26, 2008
A civilian cargo ship chartered by the U.S. Navy fired warning shots late Monday near a small boat in the Suez Canal after the smaller vessel failed to back off when ordered, according to U.S. Navy and Egyptian officials.
Egyptian officials claimed one man on the smaller boat had been killed and three others wounded; the Navy denied those claims Tuesday.
The Global Patriot, under a “short-time charter” for the Navy’s Military Sealift Command, was returning to the United States from Kuwait with a cargo of assorted U.S. military equipment. It was sailing from the Red Sea toward the Mediterranean Sea when the small boat reportedly got too close, said Lt. Nathan Christensen, a spokesman with the Navy’s 5th Fleet, headquartered in Bahrain.
After the small boat failed to heed warnings, which included bridge-to-bridge radio traffic, an Arabic speaker using a bullhorn and a warning flare, a Navy security team sailing with the Global Patriot crew fired “two sets of warning shots 20 to 30 meters in front of the boat’s bow,” Christensen said.
Typically, sets of warning shots include three to five round bursts, he said.
All of the shots fired from the Global Patriot “were accounted for as they entered the water … they saw all the shots enter the water in front of the boat,” Christensen said, a detail that prompted the Navy to refute reports that crewmembers aboard the small boat sustained casualties.
The Associated Press reported that an Egyptian security official at the canal confirmed one death. The AP also quoted the head of the union of seamen in Suez, Abbas al-Amrikani, identifying the dead man and saying his body was being transferred to a mosque for burial.
“We are praying over his body right now,” al-Amrikani was quoted as saying. “I saw the body. The bullet entered his heart and went out the other side.”
At a meeting with reporters in Washington on Tuesday morning, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead said an investigation into the claim was under way.
“I’ve read and have had reported to me the Egyptian allegation that there was a death and some personnel wounded,” he said. “That has not been corroborated in anything that we have or what our people saw, but we’re doing an investigation and … we’ll work our way through that.”
According to the AP, small craft selling cigarettes and other products often approach ships in the Suez Canal but usually steer clear of military vessels. Because the Global Patriot does not look like a warship, it was approached by the small craft, the Egyptian official said.
The incident stirs memories of the USS Cole bombing in 2000, when a small craft loaded with explosives hit the U.S. warship in a Yemen port, killing 17 sailors. And, this January, a controversy erupted over Pentagon claims that Iranian small boats harassed and encircled U.S. warships transiting the Persian Gulf.
The Global Patriot, a ship owned by the U.S. company Global Container Lines Ltd., had been in Ash Shuybah, Kuwait, March 8 through March 11 to offload South African RG-31s, vehicles that have V-shaped hulls and high suspension with much of the same protection as Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, or MRAPs, said Gillian Brigham, spokeswoman for Sealift Logistics Command Europe and Sealift Logistics Command Central.
The ship then loaded assorted U.S. military equipment that had been used in the theater for return to the States, she said.
Stripes reporters Joseph Giordono and Jeff Schogol contributed to this report.