U.S. cargo ship fires on Egyptian boat

Times Staff Writer

A U.S.-flagged cargo ship contracted by the Pentagon to ferry military equipment fired on a motorboat while preparing to enter the Suez Canal on Monday night, U.S. Navy officials said. Egyptian officials said one Egyptian man was killed and two wounded in the incident.

According to a statement issued by the commander of the Navy’s 5th Fleet, the cargo ship used its radio and other measures to warn several small boats that had approached to turn away. But one motorboat, which Egyptian officials said carried local merchandise to sell to crew members of larger ships, continued toward the cargo ship and was fired on.

The statement, by the Bahrain-based command that oversees American naval vessels in the Middle East, described the gunfire as “warning shots.” But news service accounts, citing Egyptian navy and security sources, reported that shots hit men in the small boat. The Associated Press identified the Egyptian who was killed as Mohammed Fouad.


Both the U.S. Navy statement and the Egyptian sources, who were not identified by the news services, said the cargo ship was about to enter the Suez Canal, traveling northward toward the Mediterranean Sea, when it was approached by the motorboat. Neither Egyptian nor American officials gave details on the cargo aboard the U.S.-flagged ship, which the Egyptians identified as the Global Patriot. But a recent report in the defense trade publication Inside the Navy said that the Navy’s sealift command had recently contracted the Global Patriot for a three-month stint delivering heavily armored troop transporters from manufacturers in South Africa to the Persian Gulf.

According to the contract, the ship was to carry at least 110 of the armored vehicles, known as MRAPs, and was to begin the 90-day contract early last month. Thousands of MRAPs -- short for mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles -- have been rushed to Iraq since they were proved effective in defending against roadside bombs.

The AP, however, reported that according to an Egyptian naval official, the cargo ship had sailed from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and was carrying used military equipment.

Other news agencies reported that dozens of small boats in the area surrounded the ship in protest of the shooting, but quickly dispersed. The waterways in and around the Suez Canal are well known for the hundreds of small boats bearing goods for sale.

“The incident is under investigation,” Vice Adm. Kevin J. Cosgriff, the 5th Fleet commander, said in the Navy’s statement. “Fleet authorities are working cooperatively with Egyptian authorities through the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.”

U.S. Navy ships have been on high alert in the region since Iran captured 15 British sailors and marines in the Persian Gulf a year ago, holding them hostage for two weeks.


The closest U.S. ships have come to firing at similar-size boats came in January, when a group of small Iranian boats operated by Tehran’s Revolutionary Guard navy allegedly charged and threatened three American warships as they were passing through the Strait of Hormuz.

U.S. officials said they believed the Iranians dropped boxes in the water and threatened to blow them up, and naval officers were on the verge of firing on the fast boats when they broke off and retreated. The account was later disputed by Iranian officials.

According to the website of Global Container Lines, the New York-based shipping group that owns the Global Patriot, the ship can carry rolling stock and containers, as well as bulk cargo. A photo of the ship shows no visible military markings.