Critical Analysis: U.S. Naval Ship Fires on Indian Pleasure Boat

UNSN Rappahannock (The National)
UNSN Rappahannock (The National)
USNS Rappahannock (The National)

A U.S. Navy supply ship fired at a small boat in the Persian Gulf on Monday, injuring three people and killing one. United Arab Emirates officials reported that the casualties were Indians on a small, white pleasure craft.

Before the incident, which some are calling a reflection of rising tensions in the region, the small boat had appeared to be heading for the Dubai port of Jebel Ali, the UAE’s main container port and a spot where U.S. vessels often stop to refuel. According to preliminary reports, the U.S. ship gave a verbal warning and warnings by radio and light signals to the boat when it was just over 1,000 yards away.  The naval ship then fired one warning shot, before finally firing the disabling shots.

The crew, mostly civilians along with a security team, on the USNS Rappahannock were reportedly acting in accordance with Navy procedures by using a series of nonlethal, preplanned responses to warn the boat. When the warnings failed to deter the smaller approaching boat, the security team on the USNS Rappanhannock fired rounds from a .50-caliber machine gun. By the time the shots were fired, the boat had approached to 100-200 yards away from the U.S. ship. UAE reports state that the boat did not receive any warnings and was moving on its rightful path.

The incident occurred near the Strait of Hormuz, where tensions have been rising as Iranian officials threaten to close the waterway in response to increased U.S. pressure. Navy vessels are weary of other approaching boats, particularly after the October 2000 suicide bombing attack of the USS Cole. The U.S. has also been increasing its military presence in the area. The pending arrival of the U.S.S. John C. Stennis aircraft carrier group will give the Navy two aircraft carriers and associated warships in the region, as well as eight counter-mine ships.

Officials reported that UAE authorities are investigating the event, and that the Emirates’government would follow up after an initial review. United States’ officials have expressed their condolences and stated that they will be conducting an investigation as well.

Aiden Kramer is a 3L at the University of Denver and the Executive Editor of The View From Above.