UAE says Japanese oil tanker hit by explosives

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The United Arab Emirates said Friday that a Japanese oil tanker was hit by an explosives-laden dinghy in the Persian Gulf in what would be the first attack in the strategic waterway. Millions of barrels of oil are transported each day through the area.

The report — which came days after an al-Qaida-linked group claimed responsibility for attacking the vessel — raised fears about the vulnerability of the Strait of Hormuz, a vital shipping lane for many petroleum exporting countries.

It was the latest in what has been a series of conflicting accounts of what happened to the M. Star supertanker, which was damaged as it entered the Strait of Hormuz, a transit point for about 40 percent of oil shipped by tankers worldwide.

If the UAE report is confirmed, the July 28 incident would be the first militant attack in the strait, a narrow chokepoint between Oman and Iran. For years, fears have been high that the waterway could be the site of conflict between the United States and Iran, but the reported attack underscored concerns that militant groups could target civilian vessels to foment economic instability.

While the ship's owner, Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, initially said it suspected an attack, others said it was hit by a large wave or was involved in a collision with another vessel. A crew member was injured and the tanker sustained a square-shaped dent on the hull.

The Emirati state news agency WAM said Friday that a boat piled with explosives struck the tanker — the first official word that the incident was an attack.

"The attack is not a major attack in terms of its target. But the geography is really worrying," said Mustafa Alani, director of national security and terrorism studies for the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center. "Now, they are able to attack outside the Strait of Hormuz where 17 million barrels of oil a day are transported. The fact that they are able to do this is a wake-up call."