Japanese oil tanker targeted by terrorists
Bangkok News.Net
Saturday 7th August, 2010

After a week of heady speculation in maritime circles around the world, the United Arab Emirates has confirmed that an incident in the Strait of Hormuz, in which an oil tanker was damaged, was in fact terrorism.

The announcement came Friday after security officials in the country found traces of home-made explosives on the hull of the tanker in the area of damage.

The ‘M Star’, a VLCC-class supertanker, was en-route from Qatar to Japan and navigating the Strait of Hormuz, near Oman, when the crew reported an explosion.

The damaged tanker was still able to navigate under its own power and turned around to have a damage assessment and repairs carried out in the United Arab Emirates. One crew member was injured and there were no signs of an oil leak.

Since then, experts and observers have put forward a range of theories as to what may have happened to the vessel, which was carrying 270,000 tons of crude oil at the time.

The general consensus had been that a collision occurred, but the damaged hull of the ship showed a perfect circle of inward-blown steel above the waterline, with a square clearly demarcating the steel skeleton of the ship’s hull.

Such damage suggested, for some, that an explosive weapon had been directed at the vessel.

This theory was supported by the suspicious lack of scratches to the paint, which would have almost certainly resulted from a collision with any other vessel.

“An examination carried out by specialised teams had confirmed that the tanker had been the subject of a terrorist attack” a news report by The National, a UAE-based newspaper said Friday, citing WAM, the UAE’s state-run news agency.

“UAE explosives experts who collected and examined samples found a dent on the starboard side above the water line and remains of home-made explosives on the hull,” said WAM, quoting a UAE Coast Guard official who withheld his name due to the sensitivity of the matter.

A port official familiar with the investigation told Big News Network that a boat loaded with homemade explosives may have been attempting to ram the ship when it exploded prematurely, which would account for the relatively minor damage to the tanker.

The announcement comes two days after an Al-Qaida linked group claimed responsibility for the attack, although the group is known to have made false reports in the past, and security experts have suggested the Abdullah Azzam Brigades may be attempting to use the tanker story as a means of elevating their profile.

Mitsui OSK, the Japan-based company that owns the ship, said they could not yet confirm the UAE’s findings.

The Strait of Hormuz is a narrow strip of ocean through which 40% of the world’s crude oil is transported and the UAE’s results are likely to prompt a security review in the region.