An Iranian speedboat fired shots toward a U.S. Navy helicopter in the Persian Gulf yesterday, but may have been trying to warn the aircraft away rather than hit it, Defense Department officials reported.

The shots were fired when an SH60 Sea Sprite helicopter, based on the frigate USS Elrod, flew to investigate an attack on a Liberian tanker, a U.S. official told Reuter in Dubai. The frigate is part of a U.S. force in the area to protect U.S.-flagged Kuwaiti ships.

There were no injuries reported in the incident and the helicopter did not fire back, officials said.

The tanker, the 275,553-ton Eastern Power, was attacked by five Iranian speedboats but reportedly not damaged.

"It is not clear that our helicopter was being fired at today or if the Iranian boat was firing warning shots," the Defense Department said in a statement issued at the Pentagon.

The spokesman said it was not clear whether one or more boats had fired the shots.

"We did not stick around to find out," he said.

The Pentagon statement said there were no injuries and no damage is evident to the helicopter in the incident which took place approximately 10 miles south of Abu Musa Island.

It said the helicopter was some 4,000 yards from the five speedboats and 8,000 yards from the Elrod, which did not come under fire, when the shooting started at 2:35 a.m. (EST).

Yesterday's incident was only the latest flare-up between the United States and Iran in the Gulf, where Iran and Iraq, locked in a bloody seven-year war, have been attacking each other's shipping.

On Sept. 21, U.S. helicopter gunships attacked the Iranian ship Iran Ajr, which Washington said had been caught red-handed laying mines. Three Iranian seamen were killed.

On Oct. 8, U.S. helicopters sank an Iranian patrol boat and damaged two others near Farsi Island in the northern Gulf.

U.S. officials said the action was taken in self-defense after the Iranian boats fired on an observation helicopter.

U.S. warships pounded Iranian oil platforms in the central Gulf on Oct. 19, three days after Iran fired a Silkworm missile into the reflagged Kuwaiti tanker Sea Isle City.