INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM MONITOR—PAPER NO.668
“The enormous publicity, which the LET (Lashkar-e-Toiba) got for its sea-borne attack in Mumbai (on 26/11,2008), demonstrated the propaganda value of sea-borne attacks, where the surprise element is more. It is to be expected that not only Al Qaeda, but also other Al Qaeda allied elements such as those of the Jemmah Islamiyah and the Yemeni and Somali members of Al Qaeda might once again be tempted to think in terms of acts of maritime terrorism to prove that their capabilities are intact.”
----------- From my article of March 5,2010, titled “Fresh Fears of Maritime Terrorism “ at http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/%5Cpapers38%5Cpaper3702.html
There was a maritime incident of unexplained origin involving a Japanese supertanker named “M.Star” near the Strait of Hormuz on July 28,2010. The M Star, which is owned by the Mitsui OSK Lines, was on its way to the port of Chiba, near Tokyo. One crew member was slightly injured. But the tanker, which was loaded with 270,204 tonnes of oil, was able to continue under its own power to a port in the United Arab Emirates, where investigations were being conducted. News agency reports quoted Japanese officials as saying that an explosion had occurred in the rear starboard area of the ship, and that it was possible that the damage had been caused by an attack from outside. According to the Reuters news agency, the incident left the hull caved in on one side, blew off a lifeboat and smashed windows and doors.
2. However, Mr. Ataollah Sadr, Managing Director of the Iranian Navigation and Ports Organization, was quoted by the semi-official Mehr news agency of Iran as ruling out the possibility of a terrorist attack. He said: "Due to the presence of some inflammable steams and gases on the oil tankers, the possibility of a blast cannot be ruled out. Based on the dialogues and messages heard from the Maritime Rescue Coordination Center (MRCC), there has been news about a quake occurrence. The captains of the ships which were in the area have not ruled out the possibility of an earthquake. Now, the flame has been contained in the tanker and it is moving towards one of the ports in the littoral states of the Persian Gulf. Till now no comprehensive information has been received about the incident. We will announce the details upon receiving the authentic news."
3.Mr.Ali Akbar Saffai, the head of the marine department of Iran's southern province of Hormozgan, said that the incident took place in "Oman's trivial waters," rejecting earlier reports that the incident had occurred in the Strait of Hormuz. According to him, the explosion occurred when the ship was sailing in Oman waters in the western part of the strait.
4.The Chinese Xinhua news agency quoted Mr.Kenji Yoshimura of the Mitsui OSK Lines, as saying that the explosion did not lead to an oil leakage. According to him, the tanker was heading toward Japan after loading crude oil in the port of Das Island in Abu Dhabi when the blast took place.
5. Till August 3,2010, the incident was treated by analysts as probably an accident of unexplained origin and not as a terrorist attack. However, on August 3, a group calling itself the Abdullah Azzam Brigades posted a statement and a photo on an Islamist ( Al Faloja) website known to be used by pro-Al Qaeda terrorists. The statement said as follows: “Last Wednesday, after midnight, the martyrdom-seeking hero Ayyub al-Taishan blew himself up in the Japanese tanker M.Star in the Strait of Hormuz between the United Arab Emirates and Oman.”
6. The photo posted on the web site was of the alleged suicide bomber (al- Taishan) dressed in an Arab-style white robe and cap, pointing at a picture of a supertanker on a videoscreen. The group claimed the attack was meant to be a blow to the global economy and the oil market and that those who have offered other explanations for the incident are trying to cover up the incident.
7. It would be difficult to comment on the veracity of the claim made in the message till the damage suffered by the supertanker had been examined by experts. If it was an act of suicide terrorism as claimed, the suicide terrorist might have come in a boast filled with explosives and rammed against the tanker. Examination of the point of impact would indicate whether there had been ramming and whether explosives had been used.It is not clear why the organization waited for six days after the incident before it made the claim.
8. In 2005, an organization calling itself the Abdullah Azzam Brigades had claimed responsibility for a terrorist attack at the Egyptian resort of Sharm al-Sheikh and for two unsuccessful rocket firings against two US warships in Jordan’s Aqaba port. The authenticity of the claims could not be established. It was presumed that a group of Egyptian terrorists must be operating under this name. This group had not come to notice earlier for having a capability for an act of maritime terrorism involving the ramming of a suicide boat against a ship or a tanker, but its unsuccessful firing of rockets against the two US ships in 2005 showed a capability for rocket attacks from a distance. But the organisation which claims to have attacked the Japanese tanker has projected it as an act of suicide terrorism. This would rule out the use of rockets.
9.Presuming that it was a planned attack on the tanker, one has to keep in view the possibility that pro-Al Qaeda terrorists from its branches in Yemen or Somalia might have been involved. It is going to be difficult to establish this. There is no reason to believe that the Japanese were specifically targeted. The perpetrators wanted to attack a tanker and the Japanese tanker came their way. Dangers of sporadic or opportunistic acts of maritime terrorism persist. (6-8-10)
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org )