Experts question US finding on Gulf tanker incident

* Experts at Gulf security meeting want more info on matter

* Clarity crucial since much oil shipped through Gulf strait

By Frederik Richter

MANAMA, Dec 5 (BestGrowthStock) – Some military experts in the Gulf
are sceptical about a U.S. statement that militants staged a
mystery attack on a Japanese tanker in the Strait of Hormuz in
July and are seeking more information about the incident.

The strike on the M. Star, if confirmed, would be the first
such attack in the busy strait, the gateway to the Gulf through
which 40 percent of the world’s seaborne oil is shipped.

The strait is guarded by warships from the U.S. Navy’s Fifth
Fleet, which is based in Bahrain, and other nations.

A brief advisory by the U.S. Department of Transportation
Maritime Administration (MARAD) last month ended months of
Western silence about the July 28 incident and countered
speculation it was some kind of accidental collision.

The note described as “valid” a claim of responsibility by
the shadowy Abdullah Azzam Brigades for the failed attack, which
hurt a seaman but caused no oil spill or disruption to shipping.

But defence officials at a security conference in the Gulf
said that despite the MARAD note it was not known what happened
to the 333-metre M.Star tanker, owned by Japan’s Mitsui O.S.K.
Lines Ltd. (9104.T: ) and registered in the Marshall Islands.

“In my opinion, the fundamental fact is that we don’t know
exactly what happened,” Rear Admiral Bruno Nielly, commander of
French forces in the Indian ocean, told Reuters.

JAPAN STILL INVESTIGATING

A Japanese defence official at the Manama Dialogue
conference of Gulf officials and analysts told Reuters the U.S.
advisory on the incident was not “definitive”. [ID:nLDE6B30AZ]

Japanese authorities are investigating the incident but have
yet to publish their findings.

U.S. Fifth Fleet representatives at the security conference,
organised by UK-based think tank the International Institute for
Strategic Studies (IISS), declined to comment.

Asked about the MARAD statement last month, the Fifth Fleet
said merely that it continued “to monitor the region’s waterways
closely … We maintain a constant state of high vigilance”.

The Abdullah Azzam Brigades are active mainly in the
Egyptian Sinai and Lebanon and believed to be composed mainly of
Arabs who once fought with al Qaeda in Iraq in 2004-06.

“The fact that the Americans were able to bring (results of
their investigations) out first means the Japanese are dragging
their feet,” said IISS maritime analyst Christian Le Miere.

“I’m slightly surprised that there has not been more of a
discussion of the M. Star incident and it might be a realization
that there is not much they can do,” said Le Miere.

The international naval presence in the region is focused on
protecting shipping in the Gulf of Aden from pirate attacks, and
some observers say there should be more attention paid to
securing the Strait of Hormuz after the M.Star incident.

In a rare example of open support for the MARAD statement,
Marshall Islands authorities have said they give it credence.

In a statement last month Captain Thomas Heinan, Deputy
Commissioner of Maritime Affairs of the Republic of the Marshall
Islands, said: “The Marshall Islands Registry has worked closely
with various military and intelligence agencies since the event
and warned its fleet of the threat within days of the attack.”
(Reporting by Frederik Richter; editing by William Maclean and
Mark Heinrich)

Experts question US finding on Gulf tanker incident