The rare shooting not far from approaches to the Strait of Hormuz comes at a period of heightened tensions between the United States and nearby Iran.
A UAE official said the vessel was a fishing boat. It was unclear why it might have veered so close to an armed American vessel.
There was no immediate sign of Iranian involvement, or any indication that the incident was a reprise of al-Qaida’s 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen. But the incident will likely focus further attention on the risks American vessels face in the Gulf even as the Navy beefs up its presence in the region.
Lt. Greg Raelson, a spokesman for the Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, said a security team aboard the USNS Rappahannock issued a series of warnings before resorting to lethal force about 10 miles (15 kilometers) off the coast of Dubai’s Jebel Ali port.
“The U.S. crew repeatedly attempted to warn the vessel’s operators to turn away from their deliberate approach. When those efforts failed to deter the approaching vessel, the security team on the Rappahannock fired rounds from a .50-caliber machine gun,” he said.
Raelson said the incident, which happened at 2:50 p.m. local time, 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 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 Navy personnel could have seen the boat — mistakenly or not — as a threat in Gulf waters not far from Iran’s maritime boundaries. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the incident between the two allies.
Tariq Ahmed al-Haidan, political affairs assistant to the UAE Foreign Minister, confirmed the number of dead and injured.