CBSN

U.S. ship fires on boat off Dubai coast; 1 dead

The replenishment oiler USNS Rappahannock sails alongside the aircraft carrier USS George Washington in the Pacific Ocean Oct. 4, 2011.
U.S. Navy/Spc. Seaman Erin Devenberg

Updated at 3:18 p.m. ET

(CBS/AP) DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - A U.S. Navy ship opened fire on a small boat racing toward it Monday near the Gulf city of Dubai, killing one person, according to American officials.

In a statement, the Navy said the USNS Rappahannock fired on the boat with its .50-caliber machine gun after the boat "disregarded warnings and rapidly approached" the U.S. ship near Dubai's Jebel Ali port. The Rappahannock "repeatedly attempted" to warn the vessel to turn away from the ship before firing, the statement says.

The Navy said the incident 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 Dubai's 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 U.S. 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. 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.

An Emirati rescue official at the scene confirmed the casualty toll.

Another UAE official familiar with the incident said authorities "are looking into the matter and will be issuing a report at a later stage."

Like the U.S. consular official, they spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the incident between the two allies.

Hours after the incident, the Pentagon announced it was sending an aircraft carrier to the Middle East several months early to make sure at least two carriers will constantly be present in the troubled region.

There are two carriers in the area now, but one was scheduled to leave before its replacement arrived to fill that gap, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has approved sending by late summer the USS John C. Stennis strike group, which also includes the Aegis guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay and some 5,500 sailors.

The extra presence was approved late last week on a request by Gen. James Mattis, commander of U.S. Central Command, Pentagon press Secretary George Little said Monday.

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 comes from a "wide range of security issues" in the region.

"This is not about any one particular country or any one particular threat," he said.

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 Iran's nuclear program. The U.S. recently boosted its naval presence in the Gulf with additional minesweepers and other warships.

The U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi had no immediate comment, referring all questions to the Navy.