By Chip Cummins, Margaret Coker and Tahani Karrar-Lewsley
July 28, 2010
A Japanese tanker reported an early-morning explosion in the strategic Strait of Hormuz Wednesday, triggering worry from the ship owner and the Japanese government that the vessel had been attacked in the volatile waterway.
Damage is seen on the side of the M. Star oil supertanker as it arrives at Fujairah port in the United Arab Emirates.
But by midafternoon Wednesday, the likely cause of the explosion appeared to be instead a rogue wave, according to a maritime official in the United Arab Emirates’ port of Fujairah, where the damaged ship anchored later for inspection and repairs.
Earlier Wednesday, Ltd., the Japanese owner of the vessel, said the blast may have been an attack, a fear echoed late in the day by the Japanese government. A statement issued by Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism said Mitsui O.S.K. suspected an attack.
“Since one of the crew saw a flash on the horizon immediately before the blast, the company suspects it was highly likely an attack,” the statement said.
The Strait of Hormuz is a heavily monitored waterway that cuts between Iran and Oman. About a fifth of the world’s daily oil supply makes its way through the strait.
Acts of piracy have increasingly become a worry for international shippers in the region, especially along the eastern coast of Africa. Recently, pirates have attacked as far north as offshore Oman in the Arabian Sea. At the same time, Iranian officials have from time to time threatened to disrupt traffic in the strait amid its nuclear standoff with the international community.
An Iranian shipping official said the damage was likely caused as a result of an earthquake—leading to the rogue wave—and rejected the possibility of a terrorist attack, according to Iran’s semiofficial Mehr news agency, the Associated Press reported.
The U.S. Fifth Fleet, which is based in Bahrain and responsible for American naval forces in the Gulf, said the master of the Marshall Islands-flagged oil tanker, the M. Star, reported by radio to the U.K.-based Maritime Trade Organization that an explosion occurred on his ship at 3:30 a.m. Wednesday, local Bahrain time. The vessel sustained damage on its starboard side while it was transiting the Strait of Hormuz, the master reported.
The captain didn’t indicate that his ship had been under attack at the time of his initial voice report, a Fifth Fleet spokesman later said in an email.
The spokesman said the Navy was still seeking information about the explosion.
An initial damage assessment from the ship’s owner found that one lifeboat was blown off the ship and there was some damage to some of the ship’s hatches. The cause of the explosion and full extent of damage were unknown, the release said.
Fifth Fleet offered emergency assistance, but the ship’s master determined it wasn’t needed. The Strait of Hormuz remained open for navigation, and shipping lanes were unaffected by the incident, the Navy said.
Capt. Mousa Murad, general manager for the Port of Fujairah, in a telephone interview said the ship’s crew reported to him that there was some sort of swelling wave that hit the tanker, injuring one crew member and causing damage in the ship’s accommodation area.
A photo released by the Emirates state news agency WAM after the tanker arrived in Fujairah showed a large, square-shaped dent beginning near the waterline on the rear starboard side of the ship’s hull.