It’s a terror attack

Afshan Ahmed
Filed on August 7, 2010

A Japanese oil tanker that was damaged in the Strait of Hormuz last week was the target of a terrorist attack from a boat loaded with explosives.

A UAE Coast Guard official confirmed to the government news agency Wam on Friday.

M Star, which had berthed for repairs at the Port of Fujairah, set sail on Friday after the damage to its starboard side was repaired.

It’s a terror attack (/assets/oldimages/dama_070810.jpg)

The tanker, operated by Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, was attacked while passing through international waters near the Strait of Hormuz on July 28.

The vessel that was on its way to Japan was crewed by 31 members, including 16 Filipinos and 15 Indians, and was carrying two million barrels of crude oil from the Gulf, but did not suffer a spill.

A UAE Coast Guard source said that investigations and examinations carried out by specialised teams had confirmed that the tanker had been the subject of a terrorist attack.

“After the tanker had anchored 12 nautical miles off the Port of Fujairah, 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,” the source told Wam.

A life boat was also blown off the ship and one crewman was slightly wounded in the blast, which caused minor damage to the vessel, according to the initial damage assessment by the ship owner.

“Probably the tanker had encountered a terrorist attack from a boat loaded with explosive,” said the coast guard source.

No details of who was responsible for the attack were known yet and officials at the Fujairah Port decline to comment on Friday.

US Navy 5th Fleet Media Officer John Fage told Khaleej Times on Friday that they will be cooperating with UAE officials on the matter.

“Our experts will be in contact with UAE officials to further discuss their findings, and we will continue to assist Mitsui O.S.K. Lines with their ongoing investigation as needed and requested by the shipping line,” he said.

Speculations were that the damage to the tanker could have been caused by a tidal wave but the operators maintained that was quite unlikely the case, raising the possibility of a terror attack.

Last week, a group linked to Al Qaeda, Brigades of Abdullah Azzam, posted a statement on its website taking responsibility for the attack on M Star.

Fage said he had seen the report on the claim but could not comment any further. However, with regard to the safety concerns that could arise from the new revelation, he said that high security was maintained in the area.

“Commerce and traffic continue as normal at this time, in and around the Arabian Gulf,” he added. “US 5th Fleet and our coalition partners maintain a constant, high state of vigilance to ensure critical waterways remain safe and to protect the free flow of commerce crucial to the global economy.”

In Tokyo, Japanese Transport Minister Seiji Maehara said he had instructed ministry officials to ask the UAE authorities for details of the investigation, as requested by the prime minister, in order to conduct their own analysis on the cause of the attack, AFP reported.

Japan “should take a firm stance” in response to such incidents, Maehara was quoted as saying by Jiji Press, because they threaten Japan’s oil imports. The world’s second biggest economy sources some 90 per cent of its oil from the Middle East, much of it from the Gulf.

The Brigades of Abdullah Azzam on Tuesday claimed a suicide bomber blew himself up on the ship. US monitoring group SITE Intelligence said the militant group claimed it had placed a suicide bomber on the tanker, identifying him as Ayyub Al Taishan.

It said the attack was carried out in the name of Omar Abdul Rahman, the Egyptian “Blind Sheikh” imprisoned in the United States for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing in New York.

The attack sought “to weaken the infidel global order which is thrust unto Muslim lands and which loots its resources”, the Brigades said, according to SITE.

Mitsui OSK had maintained the damage was caused by an attack despite initial reports it was caused by a freak wave. The Japanese shipping firm said crew members saw a flash and heard an explosion shortly after midnight.

The master of the vessel expressed his profound thanks to the UAE authorities for their swift response to the tanker’s request to anchor near the Port of Fujairah for investigation, survey and cold repairs and to make sure of its safety, seaworthiness and ability to pursue its voyage under its own power to Japan, WAM said.

The captain said this humanitarian gesture demonstrates the deep bond of friendship between his country and the UAE, and the latter’s commitment to the international laws and charters.

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