UAE confirms terror link to Hormuz tanker attack

Eric Watkins
OGJ Oil Diplomacy Editor

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 9 -- Explosives experts in the United Arab Emirates confirmed a Japanese-owned oil tanker steaming through the Strait of Hormuz last week came under a terrorist attack.

"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," according to a statement released by the Arab nation’s news agency WAM.

"An examination carried out by specialized teams had confirmed that the tanker had been the subject of a terrorist attack," the statement said, citing an unnamed coast guard official.

A spokesman for the US Navy's Fifth Fleet, which is based in Bahrain and patrols the strait, said it was aware of the reports of explosive residue found on the Japanese tanker and that US Navy experts were in contact with Emirati officials to discuss the findings.

The Japanese government likewise said it was seeking further information from the UAE in connection with the terrorist allegations. Japanese Transport Minister Seiji Maehara said he instructed his ministry “to request the UAE via diplomatic channels to check on the facts.”

The statement by UAE officials appears to confirm earlier suspicions of Japanese officials who said at the time of the incident that an explosion had occurred in the rear starboard area of the ship, and that it was possible that the damage had been caused by an attack from outside.

The M Star, owned by Mitsui OSK, was damaged on July 28 as it travelled through the strait on its way to the port of Chiba near Tokyo. The vessel carried 270,000 tonnes of crude oil from the UAE. No spill resulted.

One crew member was slightly injured. But the tanker, which was loaded with 270,204 tonnes of oil, was able to continue under its own power to a port in the UAE, where the investigations are being conducted.

The UAE statement follows a claim by the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, which is affiliated with the terrorist al-Qaeda organization, that it was responsible for the attack which took place on July 28.

In a statement posted on a militant website and dated Aug. 2, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades identified the bomber as Ayyub Al Tayshan, a group member, and said he blew himself up in the Strait of Hormuz between Oman and the UAE.

The group, which gave few other details, said it chose the location of the attack to "weaken the global infidel order that has assumed authority over Muslim lands, looting their resources, and to lift the oppression of Muslims."

A person close to the investigation said forensics evidence from the hull of the tanker showed that the explosives used were a homemade compound employing TNT-like materiel. "The bomb he made was homemade and very weak," the person said.

In a research note, JP Morgan underlined its view of the attack: "While this highlights security concerns at the world’s most important oil supply choke point, the scale of the attack seems pretty low-brow.”

According to the US Energy Information Administration, the Strait of Hormuz is “the world's most important oil chokepoint due to its daily oil flow of 16.5-17 million bbl (first half 2008E), which is roughly 40% of all seaborne traded oil (or 20% of oil traded worldwide).”

The al-Qaeda group has often threatened to target the strategic waterway, but the July attack is the first known attempt by an Islamic extremist group to carry out the threats.

In 2008, however, 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 (OGJ Online, Apr. 21, 2008).

In October 2002, militants linked to the al-Qaeda organization were blamed for an attack on the oil tanker Limburg off the coast of Yemen. One crew member was killed in that attack, which saw oil prices and insurance rates soar (OGJ, Oct. 21, 2002)

Contact Eric Watkins at hippalus@yahoo.com

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