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Japanese Shipper Investigates Strait of Hormuz Explosion

This undated handout picture released by Japanese shipping company Mitsui OSK Line on 29 Jul 2010 shows the oil tanker 'M.Star'

Japan's Mitsui O.S.K. Lines is investigating an explosion in the Strait of Hormuz that damaged a large oil carrier. The explosion occurred shortly after midnight local time and injured a crew member on board.

The explosion occurred as the oil tanker M Star was passing through a narrow strait off the coast of Oman. Thirty-one crew members on board were headed back to Japan, when they saw a flash, then heard a loud explosion.

Mitsui O.S.K. Lines spokeswoman Kazumi Nakamura says the impact shattered windows and damaged the hull. The tanker also lost a life boat.

Nakamura says the explosion occurred near that boat, on the right side of the deck. The company is investigating this as a possible terrorist attack, and the U.S. Navy and members of the British Maritime Trade Operation are assisting.

M Star was carrying around 2.3 million barrels of oil on board but Nakamura says the tanker did not suffer a spill. It now remains docked at Fujairah Port in the United Arab Emirates indefinitely.

UAE Port officials say the explosion may have been caused by strong waves - but Mitsui disputes that. At a press conference in Tokyo, General Manager of Tanker Safety Masahiko Hibino said the broken doors were not wet. And added that visibility was good and the winds calm at the time of the incident.

Forty percent of the world's seaborn oil supply passes through the Strait of Hormuz - known as a gateway to the oil-rich Gulf. Al-Qaida has threatened to attack ships in the region before - but Nakamura says this is the first incident for Mitsui.

Japan ships about 90 percent of its oil from the Gulf region.