Mystery in the Hormuz: cracks appear in M Star

Cracks have appeared in the hull of the MOL tanker which continues to be the focus of an investigation into a mysterious incident off Oman on Wednesday.

The Japanese owner of the 314,000-dwt M. Star (built 2008) will not back down from its assertion that “an explosion” near the Strait of Hormuz caused a huge dent in the ship’s hull but has denied there was any fire damage.

The Marshall Islands-flagged VLCC remains at anchor at the UAE port of Fujairah as authorities appear baffled at what occurred in the early hours of Wednesday leaving one crew member slightly injured.

Masanori Kobayashi, general manager of MOL’s marine safety division, told TradeWinds on Friday that a dent measuring 14 metres wide and seven metres high is visible above the waterline on the starboard side of the ship.

Kobayashi also said that a number of “small cracks” have developed on the hull due to apparent impact from “an outside cause”. The safety chief insisted, however, that there has been no water ingress or leakage of any of the cargo of cruse oil.

Despite repeatedly referring to the incident as “an explosion”, Kobayashi said there is no evidence of any scorch marks on the hull nor are there any obvious signs of paint marks from another vessel or object. He continued by saying at no time during or after the incident was there a fire onboard the tanker.

MOL was quick to point to an explosion as the result of the incident and has not ruled out an attack or collision. The Japanese owner did, however, tell TradeWinds on Thursday that damage from a freak wave cause by a low-level regional earthquake was “not likely”. A UAE port official has also distanced himself from earlier claims of a freak wave being behind the incident, instead suspecting a collision of some sort.

TradeWinds had earlier been told by MOL spokesperson Kazumi Nakamura that representatives from the US Navy as well as from the UKMTO had boarded the tanker at Fujairah. However, Nakamura on Friday said the company later found out the US Navy had not been onboard.

Reiterating the company’s stance on the probable cause of the incident, Nakamura added on Friday: “Since there are dents on the starboard side hull and damage to the crew quarters area that appear to have been made from the outside, we believe the damage was caused by some external force”.

Amongst other scenarios, the investigation is likely to examine the possibility that the ship was struck by a submarine or a sea mine. An attack by terrorists or Somali pirates has not been ruled out.

By Eoin O’Cinneide in London

Source: Tradewinds

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