‘Freak Wave’ Damages Japan Supertanker in Strait of Hormuz

By Erika Solomon and | July 28, 2010

A Japanese oil tanker damaged by a freak wave in the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world’s most important shipping lanes, was making its way to a port in the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday.

The ship’s owners reported an explosion onboard and said it may have been caused by an attack but a port official who spoke to the crew said there was no evidence.

No oil leaked from the supertanker, named M Star, although some members of the 31-strong crew were injured, said a general manager at the UAE port of Fujairah where the ship was due to arrive at 5 p.m. (1300 GMT).

“The cause of the incident was a freak wave and there is damage in the upper accommodation decks of the ship and a few injured people on board,” he told Reuters. “The ship is not being tugged and there is no damage to the engine.” He said the ship would be checked and should be able to resume its journey to Japan.

Oman’s coastguard cited “a tremor” as the cause of the incident, while an official from the Omani transport ministry said it was “business as usual” in the Strait of Hormuz.

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

Captains of other ships near the incident also mentioned the earthquake, Attollah Sadr, head of Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization, was quoted as saying by Mehr news agency.

Earlier, Japan’s transport ministry said an “explosion” had occurred at around 00:30 a.m. local time.

“A crew member saw light on the horizon just before the explosion, so (ship owner Mitsui O.S.K.) believes there is a possibility it was caused by an outside attack,” Japan’s ministry said in a statement.

The U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet based in Bahrain issued a statement saying the cause of the explosion and extent of damage was unknown. “Initial damage assessment from the ship’s owner, Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd, Japan, is that one life boat was blown off the ship and there is some damage to the starboard hatches,” it said.

On board were 16 Filipino and 15 Indian crew members.

The tanker, bound for Chiba, near Tokyo, is carrying around 2.3 million barrels of Qatar Land and Abu Dhabi Lower Zakum crudes, industry sources said.

Any impact on the Asian spot crude market would be negligible and the tanker would have taken three weeks to arrive in Japan, traders said.

“This (event) won’t stop the flow of crude, so there will be no impact on what is able to be bought,” a Tokyo-based crude trader said.

Around 17 million barrels per day of oil flow via the Strait of Hormuz, and Middle East crude accounts for 90 percent of Japan’s total imports.

(Reporting by Yoko Nishikawa, Osamu Tsukimori and James Topham in Tokyo and Alejandro Barbojosa and Luke Pachymuthu in Singapore, Raissa Kasolowsky, Amran Abocar and Amena Bakr in Dubai and Frederik Richter in Bahrain; Writing by Barbara Lewis; Editing by Jason Neely)

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