- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2008

CAIRO — An American cargo ship under contract to the U.S. Navy fired warning shots at a small Egyptian boat while passing through the Suez Canal, the U.S. military said yesterday.

Egyptian authorities said at least one man was killed, but the United States said an investigation was under way and it had no reports of casualties.

The Global Patriot, which was under short-term charter to the Navy’s Military Sealift Command, entered the canal from the Red Sea at Suez after dark Monday when it was approached by several small boats, U.S. and Egyptian officials said.

The U.S. Navy has been particularly sensitive to the activities of small boats near its warships since the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, where an explosives-packed motorboat killed 17 sailors.

A U.S. Navy security team aboard the Global Patriot fired the warning shots, said Lt. Nathan Christensen, deputy spokesman for the U.S. 5th Fleet, based in Bahrain.

“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,” the U.S. Embassy in Cairo said. “One small boat continued to approach the ship and received two sets of warning shots 20-30 yards in front of the bow.”

The embassy added that “all shots were accounted for as they entered the water,” and that “initial reports indicate that no casualties were sustained on either vessel.”

The New York-based company that owns Global Patriot also said the reports it received indicated that the incident resulted in no casualties.

An Egyptian security official at the canal, however, said that after the warning shots were fired, a man was fatally shot in the small boat and that the three other men with him were wounded.

The body of the man, Mohammed Fouad, was taken to a hospital morgue, then transferred to the Ibrahim Nafie mosque ahead of burial, the head of the union of seamen in Suez, Abbas al-Amrikani, told the Associated Press.

“We are praying over his the body right now,” Mr. al-Amrikani said by phone over audible sounds of prayer. “I saw the body. The bullet entered his heart and went out the other side.” He added that Mr. Fouad was 27.

The Egyptian government issued no comment.

Small boats selling cigarettes and other products often swarm civilian ships moving through the canal. The merchants know not to approach military vessels, but the Global Patriot looked like a civilian vessel, said the security official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

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