• Kyodo News


The Chiba-bound supertanker that was apparently attacked last month in the Strait of Hormuz sustained a larger impact dent, presumably from explosives, below the waterline than previously thought, the transport ministry has revealed.

Soot marks radiating from the damaged section of the ship’s starboard quarter suggest something exploded near the surface of the water next to the hull.

The findings were reported Wednesday to an investigative panel of private-sector and government experts. The ministry also told the panel that a crew member heard a loud sound and felt a shock on the starboard side at the time and saw a descending red flash.

“The fact that such an . . . incident occurred is quite serious,” Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Seiji Maehara said. “To prevent a recurrence, we must get to the bottom of this. I ask for your cooperation.”

The explosion occurred July 28 as the 160,292-ton M. Star, operated by Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd., was sailing in Omani waters in the western part of the Strait of Hormuz. One crewman was slightly injured.

Earlier photos of the ship’s damage showed a dent 6 meters high and 11 meters long straddling the waterline, which was well above the water because the supertanker was not fully loaded.

The newly revealed portion of the dent actually extends below the visible waterline portion and is linear, about 16 meters deep and 23 meters long.

The tanker’s outer hull is almost 2 cm thick, making it difficult to seriously damage even if hit by a large object, the ministry said.

The tanker’s voyage data recorder showed it was moving northeast at about 17 knots at the time of the incident. Radar images captured in 15-second intervals showed three other large ships and three small vessels in the vicinity just before the incident occurred.

None of the small ships was identifiable, the ministry said. Two of them were situated 6 and 7 km ahead of the tanker to starboard, while the third was farther away off its port quarter.

The National Police Agency’s National Research Institute of Police Science is examining the substances collected from the damaged area to see if they were components of an explosive.

In early August, a militant group linked to al-Qaida claimed responsibility for attacking the tanker.

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