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.
The U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi had no immediate comment on the incident, referring all questions to the Navy.
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.
Theodore Karasik, a security expert at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, did not rule out Iranian involvement.
“There are certain factions within the Iranian political universe who are seeking a fight. And this is one way in which to do it,” he said.
Karasik noted there have been no known attacks so close to Jebel Ali, which is seen as a secure port in the region. He suggested that the attack might have been a way for Iranian forces to test U.S. defenses, though he acknowledged it was too early to know for sure.
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 Pentagon said Monday it is sending another aircraft carrier to the Middle East several months early to ensure it has two carriers continuously in the region.
• Additional reporting by Associated Press writer Brian Murphy.