Radar records indicate two small vessels were near a Chiba-bound supertanker when it was damaged in a suspected attack in the Strait of Hormuz in late July, transport ministry sources said Tuesday.
Data retrieved from the tanker’s voyage data recorder shows two small vessels changing directions several times and making other suspicious moves, raising the possibility they may have been involved in the purported attack.
The Japan Transport Safety Board and the government-run National Maritime Research Institute are analyzing images in the tanker’s data recorder to see whether there is any link to a terrorist attack, the sources said.
The National Police Agency’s National Research Institute of Police Science is checking substances collected from the damaged area of the ship to check for traces of an explosive, the sources said.
The 160,292-ton M. Star was damaged in a suspected explosion while sailing in Omani waters in the western part of the Strait of Hormuz on July 28, leaving one crewman slightly injured.
The radar data shows the small ships sailing parallel to the tanker, passing it and then turning around. At one point, one of the vessels disappears from the radar, a move believed to indicate it had moved to a blind spot, according to the sources.
Operated by Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd., the tanker was on its way to Japan carrying crude oil from Das Island in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates, with 31 crew members — 15 Indians and 16 Filipinos — aboard.
The government has set up an investigative panel formed by experts from the transport, foreign and defense ministries as well as the police. Outside experts are also included.
After the ship was damaged, a manager of the UAE’s Fujairah port speculated that something collided with it.
A freak wave was also cited as a possible reason for the damage.
A militant group linked to al-Qaida claimed responsibility for an attack on the ship.
The UAE’s state-run news agency, WAM, citing a national coast guard source, reported that local explosives experts “found a dent on the starboard side above the waterline and remains of homemade explosives on the hull.”
“Probably the tanker had encountered a terrorist attack from a boat loaded with explosives,” the source was quoted as saying in the report.
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