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A Japanese oil tanker, the M Star, has been damaged by an explosion in the Strait of Hormuz near Oman, causing a minor injury to one crew member. Japanese officials say the blast might have been caused by an attack. There are no reports of any oil leaking from the tanker.

 

The Strait of Hormuz links the ports of oil-rich states such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait with export markets. It is operating normally, officials say.

 

The M Star was loaded with some two million barrels of crude oil when the incident occurred, said Japan's Mitsui OSK, which owns and operates the vessel. The location of the explosion at the rear starboard suggested the blast was unlikely to have been caused by oil on the tanker, Mitsui was quoted as saying by the Japanese transport ministry in Tokyo.

 

July 28, 2010

 

 

Analysis and Forecast: Increasing Risk

 

The attack against the tanker is almost unprecedented and indications point that it was carried out by someone, rather than the result of an accident.

 

There are three possible culprits:

  1. Iran or Iran-backed elements;
  2. Al Qaeda;
  3. Pirates.

It is unlikely that they are pirates, as pirates are not known to be operating in this area, unless this was the first sign. However, this is still unlikely.

 

The likely scenarios, Iran or Al Qaeda are both equally worrying. If its Iran, it is a signal that it is indeed capable of disrupting the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz, should it be attacked. If it is Al Qaeda, it is even more worrying as it indicates that they are expanding their area of operations. This could lead to a prolonged war of attrition that could have long-term devastating consequences on the GCC states exporting oil through Hormuz. It could also signal that Al Qaeda operatives are operating out of either the UAE or Oman, risking potential clashes on the ground in those countries.

 

Whoever was behind the attack, it is a very serious and worrying development for the GCC and the rest of the world.