Militants caused blast on Japanese tanker, says UAE

Militants have attacked a Japanese supertanker with explosives near the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world's most important shipping routes, the United Arab Emirates said yesterday.

The 31 crew members aboard the M.Star reported an explosion shortly after midnight on 28 July which injured one seaman but caused no oil spill or disruption to shipping in the strategic waterway bordered by Iran, Oman and the UAE.

"An examination carried out by specialised teams has confirmed that the tanker has been the subject of a terrorist attack," the state news agency, WAM, said, quoting an unidentified coastguard source. "UAE explosives experts who collected and examined samples found a dent on the starboard side above the water line and remains of homemade explosives on the hull," the source said.

A lifeboat was blown off the deck and windows and doors were smashed. A Japanese Transport Ministry official said separately that various samples from the tanker were on their way to Japan to help investigators pinpoint the cause of the damage.

"We've asked for any remains that could help us identify the cause. Some kind of soot may be among them. Something melted could be among them," the official said.

The M.Star incident provoked several theories about the cause, ranging from a freak wave to a collision with a US nuclear submarine. On Wednesday a militant group calling itself the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, which is linked to al-Qa'ida, claimed responsibility for the incident. Security analysts based in the Gulf, some sceptical of the group's claim, said they believed the state news agency report.

"The UAE has no interest in portraying this as a terrorist attack," said Theodore Karasik, a security analyst of the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis. "So saying that it is, that's significant."

The Strait of Hormuz handles 40 per cent of the world's seaborne oil and is patrolled by US and other warships.

Mr Karasik said the incident may lead to increased patrols: "You'll see more warships patrolling in, around, and outside of the Strait."

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