Tanker damage theories point to collision or mine

Theories emerging from initial investigations into what damaged the oil tanker M. Star yesterday include a collision or a stray naval mine.

FUJAIRAH // Port officials say the initial investigation into what damaged the oil tanker M. Star early yesterday morning has shown that it may have been caused by a collision or a stray naval mine, among several theories put forward today. Mustafa Alani, a senior adviser for terrorism and security at the Gulf Research Centre in Dubai, said after analysing photographs that the damage to the ship's starboard side, near the stern, appeared to match that of a floating mine. "They tried to clear as many as possible, but there were many thousand put down during the Iran-Iraq war," he said.

"It's not a [rocket-propelled grenade]. The collapsed area, if it were an RPG, would be a round spot. There would be more blackness. It doesn't look like there was a direct impact point, which you would see with an RPG." The impact at the water-level also indicated a mine, he added.

Mousa Murad, the director of the Port of Fujairah, said a mine or a collision were possibilities. Richard Skinner, managing director of Orchid Maritime, a private security firm that specialises in maritime security, said it was more than likely a collision. "It is clearly not a natural incident because no wave could cause that type of damage," Mr Skinner said, adding that it did not appear to be weapon damage. "If it was a mine or something in the water, it is not really consistent with an explosion from a device like that." No definite determination of a cause had been made, however, and it was unclear what type of vessel might have struck the tanker or what its fate might be. The US Fifth Fleet said in a statement that no US or coalition vessels had been operating in the area at that time.

"The investigation into the cause is still ongoing and we are keeping abreast of the situation," Lt John Fage, a fleet spokesman, said in an interview. The tanker, operated by the Japanese company Mitsui OSK Lines, was struck about 4.30am yesterday. Mitsui OSK and the Japanese transport ministry said it was "highly likely" to have been an outside attack, as some of the ship's 31 crew members saw a flash on the horizon immediately before an explosion.

The UAE's state news agency, WAM, quoted Emirati and Omani officials last night attributing the damage to a freak wave caused by a "tremor". There was no unusual seismic activity that night, however, according to the National Centre of Meteorology and Seismology. Mitsui OSK said today that based on their investigation so far, wave damage was "highly unlikely". This morning, WAM issued a statement that the cause was "not yet known." azacharias@thenational.ae lmorris@thenational.ae eharnan@thenational.ae