M. Star. Reuters photo.

A Mitsui Lines-owned supertanker sustained damage Wednesday while passing through the Strait of Hormuz. The tanker, M. Star, sustained structural damage but was able to divert under its own power to a UAE port. Officials in the UAE are blaming a rogue wave, but Mitsui has hired a military expert to investigate whether or not the ship was attacked. Rogue, ship damaging waves are not unheard of, but Mitsui seems to suspect foul play.

Masahiko Hibino, Mitsui O.S.K.’s general manager of tanker safety, told a news conference that reports of earthquake-related waves were difficult to believe.

“There were some media reports saying that strong waves that come with earthquakes may have damaged the vessel…but the doors that were broken were not wet, so that kind of thing is hard to believe.” (Link)

There was also an explosion that injured one sailor onboard the tanker: “the crew heard the sound of an explosion, which had then been followed by light.”

The Iranians, who own the northern half of the real estate that forms the Strait of Hormuz, believe that an earthquake was responsible for generating the alleged rogue wave:

The Managing Director of Iranian Navigation and Ports Organization on Wednesday rules out the possibility of terrorist attack on a Japanese tanker in Persian Gulf, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported.

“Probably the earthquake has caused such an incident,” Ataollah Sadr was quoted as saying. (Link)

The Iranians go on to explain that the rogue wave apparently caused an explosion on the ship:

Talking to Mehr about the blast in Japanese oil tanker, Sadr rejected the possibility of any terrorist attack on the tanker, saying “due to the presence of some inflammable steams and gases on the oil tankers, the possibility of blast cannot be ruled out.”

The problem is, Mitsui says there was “nothing on the ship that would cause such an explosion.”

But was there an earthquake to begin with? Oman’s coastguard says there was, and blame it for the damaged ship. The first article says:

A seismologist in nearby Iran said an earthquake with a magnitude of 3.4 happened in Bandar Abbas.

The U.S. Geological Survey has no record of a magnitude 3.4 earthquake occurring in the area Wednesday. According to the USGS, a magnitude 4.8 earthquake occurred in roughly the correct area on Saturday, not Wednesday. That’s a long time for a wave to be lolling around waiting to damage a ship. Just one ship.

According to Mitsui:

“Visibility was not bad, and the wind was calm, according to the crew’s report.”

“Calm means there were no waves,” he added.

Hmm, great sailing weather for small craft.

The tanker was carrying 2.3 million barrels of crude oil, bound for Chiba, near Tokyo. Three quarters of all of Japan’s oil passes through the Strait.

Here’s the press release from Mitsui Lines:

July 28, 2010
Incident involving the VLCC M. STAR, west of the Strait of Hormuz
TOKYO — Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, Ltd.(MOL, President : Koichi Muto) today reported that at about 5:30 a.m. JST (00:30 local time) on Wednesday, July 28, west of the Strait of Hormuz at 26°27′ N 56°14′ E (Oman territorial waters), the VLCC M. STAR owned by MOL, suffered hull damage caused by an explosion which seemed to be an attack from external sources.The degree and details of hull damage are currently under investigation but no serious injury was reported, although one of the crew was slightly injured, and no oil leaked from the hull.
Further, M. STAR continues her voyage, making for the UAE port of Fujairah, where the damage and its causes will be thoroughly investigated.

M. STAR took on crude oil Tuesday, July 27, at the UAE Port of Das Island, after which it departed for Chiba Port in Japan.

Details of M/V M. STAR are as follows:
Gross tonnage 160,292 tons
LOA : 333.00 m
FLAG : Marshal Islands
Built in : 2008
Crew : 15 Indian / 16 Philippine crew
Cargo : Crude oil 270,204 MT

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A contributor and editor at the blog War Is Boring, Kyle Mizokami started Japan Security Watch in 2010 to further understand Japan's defenses and security policy.
Kyle Mizokami has 596 post(s) on Japan Security Watch