The Japanese supertanker M. STAR carrying 270,000 tons of oil was damaged by an explosion Wednesday, July 28, caused by a suspected attack in Omani territorial waters near the Strait of Hormuz, which passes Iran and Oman. One lifeboat was blown off the ship and a large dent made in its hull. A crew member was slightly injured, but there was no oil leak.
The spokesperson for the tanker's owners Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd said: "We believe it's highly likely an attack from the outside, maybe a terrorist incident. There is nothing that could cause a spontaneous explosion in that part of the vessel."
But the most striking feature of the incident, noted by debkafile's military and intelligence sources, is the unusual degree of assent between US Navy and Iranian officials that the damage to the supertanker was caused by an explosion by an unknown hand.
"The fire which was triggered by an explosion on the deck of the vessel was contained with the help of the crew and regional forces," Fars News Agency quoted head of marine department of southern Hormozgan Province, Ali Akbar Saffai, as saying, after two Iranian officials before him had attributed the blast to a low-magnitude earthquake.
Clearly both Washington and Tehran were taken unawares by the first attack ever mounted on a commercial vessel in the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow transit channel for some 40 percent of the oil shipped worldwide and one of the most carefully secured waterways in the world.
Both the US and Iran need time to find its cause and decide what to do. Meanwhile, this exceptional circumstance finds them of one mind on at least one issue, the incident must not be allowed to spiral out of control into a larger event.
According to our sources in Washington and Tehran, while waiting for evidence, both speculate that the perpetrators may be either pirates in the pay of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or even a rogue element in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, which is bent on settling scores for the latest UN, US and European sanctions against their country.
Tehran has repeatedly warned it will fight back if sanctions hurt its economy and energy supplies.
The attack on the Japanese supertanker intensified Saudi and the Gulf emirates' concerns over a possible threat to their oil exporting routes. Wednesday night, fearing an unidentified assailant may also go for their oil ports and shore installations, Persian Gulf navies, the Fifth Fleet Bahrain-based headquarters and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards naval installations at Bandar Abbas went on a high alert.
Our military sources report some 100 warships of different navies are currently present in the Persian Gulf.
After the attack, the Japanese supertanker, which took on crude oil Tuesday at the United Arab Emirates port of Das Island, headed for Fujairah in the UAE to assess the damage. Straight after the first inspection, both American and Iranian naval experts no doubt received an interim diagnosis of what caused the explosion from their local agents.
The forensic analysis of the means used to damage the M STAR would offer the first lead to the perpetrators, indicate whether it was caused by a missile, torpedo or some other means, and from what direction it was fired.