Japan Supertanker Probe Reveals Crash Impact

July 29, 2010

A Japanese supertanker, which triggered fears of an attack in the sensitive Strait of Hormuz oil shipping route, collided with something, possibly a submarine or mine, UAE port officials inspecting the ship said on Thursday.

Damage to the massive crude carrier’s hull suggested a collision, although the nature of the incident was under investigation.

“What we know is some collision happened. We don’t know what it was,” said Captain Mousa Mourad, a general manager at the UAE port of Fujairah. “It’s possible that it could be a submarine collision, or that it could be a sea mine,” he said, adding the investigation was ongoing.

A Reuters reporter taken to see the damaged vessel, the M.Star, moored off the port of Fujairah, said there was a very large, square dent and puncture marks on one side of the hull.

Divers from a Dubai-based marine repair firm are being dispatched to inspect.

Photographs released by the UAE’s WAM news agency also showed a lifeboat missing and smashed windows and doors.

The incident took place near the Strait of Hormuz, gateway to the oil-producing Gulf, bordered by Iran and several hundred kilometers north of where Somali pirates have hijacked supertankers over the last two years, including a South Korean tanker bound for the United States in April.

No oil leaked from the supertanker and the Strait remains open, with normal traffic flows, port officials said.

Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd, owner of the world’s second largest oil tanker fleet, said on Thursday it had hired a Dubai-based specialist on military attacks to help investigate damage to the 333-metre supertanker laden with oil for Japan.

Warships from the U.S. Navy and other nations patrol the region, but were not near the supertanker at the time of the incident early on Wednesday, a spokesman for the U.S. Fifth Fleet based in Bahrain told Reuters.

U.S. nuclear submarines have been in two collisions in the busy Strait of Hormuz since 2007, one involving a Japanese supertanker and the other a U.S. warship.

Mitsui O.S.K.’s general manager of tanker safety, Masahiko Hibino, said the crew reported hearing an “explosion” but the company could not definitively say there had been an attack on the ship. Nor could it rule out the possibility of an internal explosion.

A company spokesman said Mitsui was aware of a Lloyd’s List report speculating the damage may have been caused by a grenade attack, but was unable to say whether this was true.

Mitsui also refuted suggestions from officials in the UAE, Oman and Iran on Wednesday the ship may have hit a rogue wave.

The 31-strong crew, including one man injured in the incident, remain on board and are expected to set course for Japan once inspections and repairs are completed in about a week.

The tanker, bound for Chiba, near Tokyo, is carrying around 2.3 million barrels of Qatar Land and Abu Dhabi Lower Zakum crudes, industry sources say.

(Additional reporting by Raissa Kasolowsky, Amran Abocar;
Writing by Jason Neely and Miral Fahmy; Editing by Barbara

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