CAIRO: An American cargo ship contracted by the US navy opened fire on Egyptian boats in the Suez Canal late on Monday.
Egyptian authorities stated in press reports that one man was killed and two others injured. However, a statement by the US embassy in Cairo said that initial reports from the American ship indicated that there were no casualties on either vessel.
The US navy confirmed that the “Motor Vehicle Global Patriot cargo ship fired on an approaching Egyptian boat while it was in transit at the Suez Canal.
An Egyptian navy official had told The Associated Press that a motor boat carrying three Egyptians approached the “Global Patriot with the intention of selling cigarettes and other products, a common practice with ships passing through the canal.
The ship opened fire with tracer bullets killing Mohamed Fouad Afifi, 30, and injuring the two other occupants, the official said. He added that the ship had sailed from Dubai and was transporting used military equipment.
The US Fifth Fleet released a statement saying that warning shots were fired after the boats ignored verbal and radio instructions to turn back and not approach the ship.
The US Embassy in Cairo’s statement said, “The ‘Global Patriot’ was approached by several boats while preparing to transit the Suez Canal. 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. One small boat continued to approach the ship and received two sets of warning shots 20-30 yards in front of the bow. All shots were accounted for as they entered the water, the statement continued.
Relatives of the casualties refuted the American version of events to the BBC, with Afifi’s brother Mahmoud saying that they were on their way back and that the ship fired randomly at three boats without prior warning.
The brother added that they never approached military ships because they were always heavily guarded. Another relative said that when such ships passed the canal their boats were never allowed near them.
The ship had already crossed the canal and was in a waiting area known as the Zenobia lighthouse when the incident occurred.
The Chief of US Navy Operations Admiral Gary Roughead told reporters Tuesday that the navy had no information to support Egyptian claims that there had been one death and two injured.
He added that the navy security team aboard the “Global Patriot had the authority to respond in the way they did.
“In the judgment of the on-scene commander, the responses were such that led to the warning shots, he said. “Warning shots were fired . We’ll see how the facts shape out on this.
An Egyptian police official told AP that hundreds of other boat vendors had surrounded the “Global Patriot, demanding an investigation into the shooting.
At press time Egypt’s Foreign Ministry had not released a statement on the incident. When contacted by Daily News Egypt on Tuesday, neither the Suez Police Department nor the Suez Canal police station were willing to confirm or deny that there were casualties.
The US embassy said that US Navy’s Fifth Fleet Command is cooperating fully with Egyptian authorities, including the Suez Canal Authority and other local authorities, as well as the national authorities through the US embassy in Cairo to investigate the incident.
The US navy confirmed that an investigation is underway.