Middle East

Mystery of Japanese tanker damage probed

The M Star oil tanker at sea on Thursday near Fujairah port in in the United Arab Emirates
Image caption The M Star tanker lost a life vessel, among other damage

An investigation has been launched into the unexplained damage suffered by a Japanese oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz near Oman.

The M Star was damaged on Wednesday while travelling from Qatar to Japan.

Port officials in Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates say the ship was involved in a collision. However, the boat's owners Mitsui OSK believe their vessel may have been attacked.

Early reports that the ship was struck by a freak wave have been dismissed.

The M Star is currently docked in Fujairah where local officials are inspecting the damage to its hull and its interior, with the help of the British and US navies.

The incident has stirred fears of a terrorist attack in the Strait, the route for 40% of the world's seaborne oil.

'Submarine collision'

"What we know is some collision happened. We don't know what it was," said Capt Mousa Mourad, a port official in Fujairah.

"It's possible that it could be a submarine collision, or that it could be a sea mine," he said.

But Mitsui OSK maintained on Thursday that its oil tanker was probably attacked.

Crew members reported seeing a flash and hearing an explosion during the incident shortly after midnight local time on Wednesday.

"There are some reports saying the tanker was hit by strong waves, but it's quite unlikely," said Masahiko Hibino, Mitsui OSK safety management official.

"We have not reached a conclusion, but we still suspect the tanker was hit by a blast."

At a press conference in Tokyo, Mr Hibino displayed images of the tanker which showed damage to the railings, the loss of a life vessel, a shattered window, and broken furniture and fittings and shattered glass inside a dry cabin.

Pictures of the outside of the vessel, published separately, show an indentation several metres across in the hull, but no obvious burn marks or signs of an explosion.

Mr Hibino said Mitsui had hired a Dubai-based specialist on military attacks to investigate the damage.

The M Star, with 16 Filipino and 15 Indian crew members on board, had been bound for Chiba port near Tokyo. One crew member suffered injuries.

The ship was carrying two million barrels of crude. But there are no reports of any oil leaking from the tanker.

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