Saturday, August 7, 2010

Underplayed Story

About ten days ago, on July 28, something quite strange happened in the Straits of Hormuz. A Japanese oil tanker, owned by Mitsui OSK and carrying two million barrels of oil, was struck by something. Crew members reported seeing a flash. Damage included a blown off lifeboat, shattered windows, and a strangely regular shaped dent in the hull of the tanker near but above the water line.

Speculation as to the source of the damage abounded during the days in which the tanker sat in port being examined by officials from the UAE. Among these were freak waves, terrorist attacks, collisions with submarines, or collisions with a marine mine, potentially left over from the Iran-Iraq war.

Then, eight days after the event, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, an al-Qaeda affiliate responsible for attacks on resorts in Egypt in 2004 and 2005, claimed credit for what it termed an attack on the tanker. At that time, most experts dismissed the claim as untrustworthy because it came so long after the attack occurred, the damage to the hull of the tanker was regular, there was no apparent breach of the hull, and no scorch marks. But just one day later, Officials from the United Arab Emirates reported that their investigation had determined the tanker had been attacked using homemade explosives and dingy.

Attacks on shipping in the Persian Gulf are extraordinarily rare. Any assault—attempted or successful—in the vital Straits of Hormuz should cause considerable concern. A successful assault in the Straits could potentially bottle up 40% of the worlds crude—at least temporarily. The effect on the price of crude would likely be astronomical.

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