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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 October 2018

Terror theory backed by tanker 'black box'

Radar images show a small boat moving around the Japanese oil tanker damaged in the Strait of Hormuz in a suspicious manner.
DUBAI // Radar images captured by the data recorder on the Japanese oil tanker damaged in the Strait of Hormuz last month show a small boat moving around the tanker in a suspicious manner. The boat can be seen moving around the oil tanker and at times approaching it in the images captured by the voyage data recorder (VDR) of the M Star, according to the Japanese public broadcaster NHK. The images support the theory that the tanker, which was damaged in a blast on July 28 after leaving Al Ruwais for Tokyo with 270,000 tonnes of oil, was attacked by terrorists.

This month the UAE said the blast was a terrorist attack, probably caused when a speedboat rammed into the ship. Investigators said there was evidence of homemade explosives on the tanker's hull. After the incident the ship docked in Fujairah so that experts could examine the damage.

Kenji Yofhimoura, the deputy general manager of public relations for Mitsui OSK Lines, the ship's operator, yesterday confirmed it had handed data, including radar information and samples, to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism in Tokyo. 

"We have given all the available data to the ministry, which is currently carrying out the investigations," he said. "The ministry is responsible for issuing the report on what happened to the ship." 

VDRs, like so-called black boxes on planes, are installed on ships to record data that later can be used to investigate causes of damage.

Hedeshide Imamura, an official at the Japan Safety Transport Board (JSTB), which carries out maritime investigations on behalf of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, confirmed it had received the information from the vessel.

After concluding its investigations, the JSTB generally makes its findings available to the public.

The blast left a large dent on the side of the ship. It blew out the windows and caused a door to buckle. One of the 31 crew members suffered injuries.

A wide range of theories was given for the cause of the damage, with officials and experts attributing it to a freak wave or a floating mine.

On August 6 specialist divers from the US Navy Fifth Fleet, which patrols the Gulf, examined the underside of the tanker to probe the cause of the damage. They have shared their findings with Mitsui OSK Lines, said navy spokesman Lt John Fage. 

A group calling itself the Abdullah Azzam Brigades has claimed responsibility for the blast in a statement posted on a militant web site, saying one of its members died in the attack. An organisation by the same name also claimed responsibility in 2005 for an unsuccessful attack on two US warships docked off the coast of Jordan.

The Strait of Hormuz is a critical transit point - some 40 per cent of oil shipped by tankers worldwide passes through it.

If the attack is proved to have been carried out by militants, the assault on the M Star would be the first terror attack in this strategic area.

Experts have said that if the M Star blast was a terrorist attack, it appears to have been conducted by an inexperienced group.

chuang@thenational.ae

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