LOS ANGELES, Apr. 21 – A Japanese oil tanker was fired upon in international waters off southern Yemen, about 400 km east of Aden, sustaining a hole which leaked hundreds of gallons of fuel. None of the 23 crewmembers was injured.
When the attack occurred, the 150,000-tonne tanker Takayama, owned and operated by Nippon Yusen Kaisha (NYK Line), was on a ballast voyage to Yanbu, Saudi Arabia, after unloading oil in Ulsan, South Korea.
Reports varied in the number of attacking vessels. NYK Line said one unidentified boat was involved in the attack, while a Japan Coast Guard official said the number of vessels had yet to be confirmed.
"We heard one big boom at first, and then we were chased by the group for about an hour," a Takayama crew member told Japanese public broadcaster NHK. "We were attacked on the left and the right sides of the ship at least four times."
An NYK Line spokesperson said the attack left a 1-in. hole in the tanker's stern which was temporarily patched after fuel leaked. She said that the tanker was heading for repairs in Aden but that its itinerary could change depending on the extent of the damage.
Japanese transportation ministry officials said the attackers were believed to be pirates whose motive was not immediately known. However, the attackers may also be linked to the al-Qaeda terrorist group, which attacked the tanker Limburg in October 2002.
Al-Qaeda-affiliated militants have recently stepped up their activity against oil companies and installations in Yemen. In late March, al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the bombing of an oil pipeline and a separate bomb attack on a Chinese-run oil field.
A few days later, in early April, al-Qaeda militants launched another mortar attack on a residential compound in Sanaa inhabited by western oil workers and their families.
Responsibility for those attacks has been claimed by Yemeni militants who call themselves the "the al-Qaeda Organization of Jihad in the South of the Arabian Peninsula."
Led by Nasir al-Wahayshi, the group is committed to attacking all installations and institutions that support or cooperate with western powers and to eliminating all western presence on the Arabian peninsula.
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