- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2008

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) — An American cargo ship under contract to the U.S. Navy opened fire on a small Egyptian boat while moving through the Suez Canal, the U.S. military said today in a statement. Egyptian authorities said at least one man was killed, but the U.S. said 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 yesterday when it was approached by several small boats, according to both U.S. and Egyptian officials.

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. A U.S. Navy security team was aboard the cargo ship.

“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 from 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.”

The statement added that “All shots were accounted for as they entered the water.” It also said that “initial reports indicate that no casualties were sustained on either vessel.”

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

The head of the union of seamen in Suez, Abbas al-Amrikani, told the Associated Press by telephone that the body of the man, Mohammed Fouad, went to the hospital morgue before being transferred to the Ibrahim Nafie mosque ahead of burial.

“We are praying over his the body right now,” al-Amrikani said over audible sounds of prayer. “I saw the body. The bullet entered his heart and went out the other side.” He added that Fouad was 27-years-old and a father of three, including a 6-month-old girl.

The Egyptian government did not immediately issue official comment on the affair.

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 vessel, said the security official, speaking on customary condition of anonymity.

“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.”

Robertson, who noted that a Navy security team was on the vessel, said that the same rules of engagement applied for war ships as for those under contract.

Egyptian officials confirmed that the ship was now continuing its journey through the canal and expected to arrive at Port Said near the Mediterranean by nightfall.

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. The canal is a major source of foreign currency for Egypt.

Associated Press Writer Maggie Michael contributed to this report.

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