The "Global Patriot" was under short term charter to the navy's Military Sealift Command and was heading through the canal in the direction of the Mediterranean after dark Monday when it was approached by several small boats, according to both U.S. and Egyptian officials.
"The boats were hailed and warned by a native Arabic speaker using a bullhorn to warn them to turn away. A warning flare was then fired," said a statement issued by the U.S. embassy in Cairo. "One small boat continued to approach the ship and received two sets of warning shots 20-30 yards in front of the bow. All shots were accounted for as they entered the water," indicating no casualties.
An Egyptian security official at the canal, however, said that after the initial warning shots, Mohammed Fouad was shot dead in the small boat and the three other men with him were wounded.
Small boats selling cigarettes and other products often swarm the civilian ships moving through the canal. These waterborne merchants know not to approach military vessels but the "Global Patriot" looked like a civilian, said the official, speaking on customary condition of anonymity.
The U.S. Navy is very careful about the activities of small boats near their war ships ever since the 2000 suicide attack by a motor boat on the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen killed 17 sailors.
"We are very conscious of being in heavily trafficked areas and we as professional mariners try to keep people from getting too close," Fifth Fleet spokeswoman Cmdr. Lydia Robertson told The Associated Press by phone from Bahrain. "Our team did take the appropriate steps to take those measured steps to warn the vessels that were getting too close."
A U.S. Navy security team was aboard the ship.
Egyptian officials confirmed that as of 10:00 a.m. local time (0800 GMT) the ship was still in the canal, but expected it to leave in a matter of hours.
The "Global Patriot" is registered to the New York-based Global Container Lines and, according to the company Web site, the vessel trades between the United States, the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf and the East Africa.
About 7.5 percent of world sea trade passes through the canal, which at its narrowest is 120 yards wide and is divided into two 60-yard-wide lanes. The canal is a major source of foreign currency for Egypt.