A Japanese tanker named the M Star was attacked in the Strait of Hormuz near Oman on Wednesday. One crewman was injured and the VLCC tanker sustained damage. The type of attack and the attackers are still a mystery.
Crew members on the ship reported a loud blast and a flash of light shortly after midnight on Wednesday. The company that owns the tanker has hired experts to determine how it was attacked.
The tanker sustained damage to its hull and blast damage to the inside of the ship. A lifeboat was blown overboard and steel railings were broken. None of the two million barrels of oil were leaked.
M Star damage
The tanker immediately docked in the UAE so the damage could be examined by the U.S. military and other damage experts. Initial thoughts blamed the damage on a freak wave but waves don't hit just one 50-foot section of a 900-foot long tanker. Freak waves don't leave black smudges either. The straits are only two miles across and rarely have waves large enough to damage ships.
The next claim was that something collided with the tanker. However, all the damage was above the water line and there was no other craft sighted. There was speculation that it was hit by a submarine but also ruled out because all the damage was above the waterline.
There was speculation that it may have hit a sea mine left over from the Iran-Iraq war. There are mines in the area that turn up periodically. However, there was no shrapnel that you would get from an exploding mine. Researchers theorize that the mine may have been degraded by 20 years under the water and the blast was not strong enough to do any real damage. The lack of shrapnel pretty much rules out a mine although there are non-metallic mines built that way to avoid detection. It would take a monster mine to seriously damage a 900-foot long double-hulled tanker.
Lastly there was speculation that the tanker was struck by a missile that exploded prematurely. Again, no shrapnel suggests this was not the case.
Another option was an attack by terrorists similar to the attack on the USS Cole. If a terrorist was able to maneuver a Zodiac filled with explosives close enough to the tanker with the intention of blowing himself up along with the ship then this is a possibility. The common Zodiac craft is made out of rubber and plastic and it is easy to conceal and hard to detect if you are not specifically looking for it.
Getting close enough to the big tanker would have been a problem given the big waves it produces as it moves through the water. It is possible a terrorist got close but could not get close enough when he triggered the blast.
All this speculation will be erased once investigators have a chance to examine the blast residue and its chemical composition. They can quickly tell what type of explosive was used and determine if it was a mine, missile or some C4 derivative.
The news spiked oil prices already on edge because of the growing hostility with Iran. What better way for Iran to ratchet up concerns over what would happen if Iran was attacked than by staging an attack on a VLCC tanker in the Straits of Hormuz. This is the choke point for 40% of the world's oil and a passage that Iran said they would block if they were attacked over their nuclear program. The circumstances are very suspicious and should investigators decide it was an attack you can bet the hostility towards Iran will rise quickly.
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