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Japanese tanker damaged in Straits of Hormuz: the contenders 2, August 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Japan.
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This is a picture of the damage done to a Japanese Oil Tanker in the Straits of Hormuz. The M-Star was on its way from Al Ruwais, Qatar to Chiaba near Tokyo laden with 270,204 tonnes of oil when the incident occurred. There a number of explanations as to what caused the damage.

The best explanation spluttered out by nervous Emiratis and Omanis was that it was a freak wave. Now, whilst I am no ship’s engineer, I wholly refuse to believe that a wave – however freakish – could dent a ship in this manner. Nor can I see how a wave could leave an apparent blast pattern just above the waterline. This explanations has overtones of Comical Ali, to me at least.

Some reports suggest that the crew reported seeing a flash of light just before impact. This led some to suggest that it was an Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG). However, the consensus seems to be that an RPG would leave a tell-tale round hole which is not present.

The notion that the ship ran into another vessel was also mooted. It would clearly not be the first time that this had happened as Mideasti neatly rounds up. Yet, the lack of scratch marks appears to suggest that this too is unlikely.

Overall, the most likely explanation put forward was that it hit a mine that has been bobbing around the Gulf since the Iran-Iraq war. This would explain the location of the impact (close to the waterline), the relative lack of damage (degradation of the mine over the decades) and the shock-wave damage to windows on the superstructure.

Abu Dhabi building pipe to avoid Hormuz 3, June 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar, Soft Power, The Emirates.
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(Square – Habshan Refinery. Triangle – Fujairah. Elipse – Straits of Hormuz)

Abu Dhabi’s government is spending $3 billion building a 375km oil pipeline from their refinery at Habshan south west of Abu Dhabi itself to Fujairah on the Emirates’ east coast which avoids the Straits of Hormuz choke point. Were some kind of conflagration to occur and Iran to attempt to close down the Straits as they promised to do, the Emirates unlike Qatar and Kuwait, would still be able to sell their oil to the world market (as well as reaping the benefits of the astronomical price, were Iran to close the Straits).

Whilst Qatar has mooted on several occasions an idea of building a pipe for its gas through Saudi Arabia and onto Turkey, there are significant hurdles involved. Saudi Arabia has their 745 miles-long East-West pipeline but this does not have the same capacity or cost base as their shipping.

Originally planned to open in 2009 it is now expected to open in August 2011.

It is also interesting to note that it is a Chinese Company that has been contracted to build the pipeline. I wonder what exactly the terms were for that deal i.e. whether China insisted on ‘first dibs’ on the oil that comes out the other end, were the worst to happen.

Hat tip: MEED Issue No 22 28 May – 3 June 2010

New Iranian military base on Straits of Hormuz 11, November 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Iran.
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Iran has opened a new naval base in the town of Jask, right on the straights of Hormuz. The addition of this base is, to some degree, is not overly militarily significant: Iran’s main naval base is at Bandar Abbas is well capable of disrupting traffic in the straights if the Iranian regime so desired. The addition of this base, therefore, does not vastly enhance Iranian navel superiority or anything of this nature, but is more of a sign of Iran’s intentions and current political thinking.

This comes at a time of tension between Iran and the West, not to mention its Persian Gulf neighbours. Iran has repeatedly threatened to close down the straights of Hormuz as a reaction to being attacked by American forces. This would have a vastly detrimental effect on Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE as they would be prevented from shipping out their oil and gas. As these countries are typical rentier states i.e. they draw most of their wealth from the rent drawn from these products, the effects would be immediate and harsh. There have been discussions of storing oil abroad as a back-up, but such a plan is not in place now and would take years to implemenits of hormuzt.

A Chinese military base in Iran? 28, January 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in China, China and the ME, Iran, Oil, Western-Muslim Relations.
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After France’s move to secure a military base in the UAE looking out at the Straits of Hormuz last week, it is no surprise that the Iranians are feeling yet more hemmed it. Kaveh L Afrasiabi , an Iranian expert has suggested that it might not be too long before Iran seek a Chinese base on Iranian soil to compensate and reinforce their security. This is, without doubt, a premature forecast. However, the logic at the heart of the argument is sound.

China’s ever expanding need for importing fossil fuels is well known. Indeed, in the coming years, China will be – from their perspective – worryingly dependent on shipments from both sides of the Persian Gulf. They have tried to compensate for this in many ways. For example, recently China has been exploring the potential of overland pipes from various Central Asian countries through to the west of China. However, no matter how optimistic projections are about such a project, the lion’s share of fuel would still need to be shipped from Iran and the Gulf countries through the Straits of Hormuz to China. Bearing this in mind, there seems to be no way that China, in the long run, would simply accept American stewardship of a sea passage so crucial to Chinese interests. At the moment, the Chinese have a naval base in Gawdar, Pakistan (just around the corner), from which they have limited power projection to the Straits. However, compared to the massive American bases in Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar, the Chinese base is far from adequate. The fact that the French have just announced that they will soon have a base in the region too is no deal breaker, but it certainly does not help ease China’s nerves, especially since the recent French-American rapprochement under Sarkozy.

As far as Iran are concerned, China are excellent trading partners. They have a guaranteed growing demand in the long term for their fossil fuels, they have the means to pay for it (in goods or cash), they have fairly sophisticated weaponry to sell to the Iranians, they have no (or at least, certainly fewer) compunctions about selling such weaponry or indeed nuclear related technology, they have a meticulous approach to never criticising other governments internal policies and as they are a member of the P5 on the UN Security Council, they have a casting and blocking vote there. They are, thus, very useful allies to have. Additionally, Iran are currently uncertain and not a little perturbed about American intentions regarding their nuclear activities. China too, whilst having good relations with the US right now, are by no means close to America. To choose just one example, the issue of Taiwan – deeply, deeply important to Beijing – is a divisive issue that reoccurs periodically between the two powers. Add to this the afore mentioned point about China not wanting America to be able to cut off their supplies so easily, and there is a definite dove-tailing of interests here: a Chinese base in Iran doesn’t seem so far fetched all of a sudden.

However, China are a country with a long-term view of things and there are no pressing needs right now to do something as drastic as establish a base in Iran, especially with their moment in the sun – the Olympics – coming up. However, the West generally, and America specifically need to be wary about forcing China and Iran closer and closer together. Such a situation, with a worried and recalcitrant China sated for fossil fuels and with an emboldened Iran with access to sophisticated weaponry and even advanced nuclear technology, is not that much short of a nightmare scenario.