Mitsui Says Oil Tanker Possibly Attacked Near Hormuz

Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd., operator of the world’s second-largest oil-tanker fleet, said one of its ships may have been attacked near the Strait of Hormuz, deemed by the U.S. to be the most important chokepoint for oil supply.

An explosion, which “may have been caused by an external attack,” occurred at 5:30 a.m. Tokyo time, injuring one of the crew, Mitsui said in a statement. The vessel, M. Star, was on its way to Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates to assess the damage and no oil is leaking, Mitsui said. The tanker was damaged by “a high wave,” the official U.A.E. news agency WAM reported, citing Musa Murad, director of the Port of Fujairah.

The strait connects the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman and is a transit point for tankers hauling oil from producers including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iraq and Kuwait. The most northerly pirate attack in the Gulf of Oman to date was an incident in October last year involving an oil-product tanker to the south of the strait, data from the International Maritime Bureau in London show.

“The seas are very rough at this time of year because of the southwest monsoons,” said Cyrus Mody, an official at the IMB, which tracks piracy attacks. While a pirate attack isn’t impossible, “it’s difficult,” he said.

U.S. officials said they are watching the situation closely. “We have no information the tanker was attacked,” said State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley. The U.S. will continue to monitor developments, Crowley said.

Energy Information

As much as 17 million barrels of oil a day passed through the strait in the first half of 2008, equal to 40 percent of all seaborne-traded oil, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, part of the Energy Department. Located between Oman and Iran, the strait is 21 miles wide at its narrowest point. Most of the oil goes to Asia, the U.S. and Western Europe, the EIA says.

The tanker “suffered a high wave that resulted from an earthquake,” the WAM agency cited the Port of Fujairah’s Murad as saying. Earthquakes were recorded in Iran’s Hormozgan province, along the Strait of Hormuz, at 11:13 p.m. local time last night and 12:51 p.m. and 4:28 p.m. today, according to data on the website of the Tehran-based International Institute of Earthquake Engineering and Seismology.

Middle East members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries had combined oil output of 19.9 million barrels a day in June, according to Bloomberg estimates. Global supply was 86.1 million barrels in June, according to the Paris-based International Energy Agency.

Piracy Attacks

Piracy attacks worldwide declined 18 percent to 196 incidents in the first half of the year, the IMB said July 15. Attacks in the Gulf of Aden, the Red Sea and around Somalia fell to 98 from 144.

There was an explosion on the starboard side of the ship, which damaged some hatches and one of the lifeboats, said Corey Barker, a spokesman for the U.S. Fifth Fleet, speaking by phone from the fleet’s base in Manama, Bahrain. “The cause and extent of the damage is unknown and will be investigated,” he said.

Built in 2008, the double-hulled ship is 333 meters (1,090 feet) long, according to shipping data compiled by Bloomberg. The vessel most recently stopped on the eastern coast of Qatar and Das Island, owned by Abu Dhabi, ship-tracking data show. The crew consists of 15 Indians and 16 Filipinos, Mitsui said.

The tanker was delivering a cargo to Cosmo Oil Co., a Japanese refiner partly owned by Abu Dhabi, according to Katsuhisa Maeda, a spokesman for Cosmo. It was scheduled to arrive at its Chiba refinery near Tokyo on Aug. 17, he said. Three-quarters of Japan’s oil imports pass through the Strait of Hormuz, according to the EIA.

‘Implications for Ships’

“If it turns out to be an attack it will have implications for ships going in and out of the Strait of Hormuz, and would lead to delays and rising tanker rates,” said Ben Goggin, a freight derivatives broker at SSY Futures Ltd., a unit of the world’s second-largest shipbroker.

Mitsui, based in Tokyo, operates an oil-tanker fleet with a carrying capacity of 15.42 million deadweight tons, second only to Frontline Ltd.’s 16.75 million deadweight tons, according to data on Mitsui’s website.

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