Unknown assailants who opened fire on a gas tanker last week off the coast of Yemen were also carrying a “substantial amount of explosives”, the vessel’s owner said on Thursday, and a maritime source said it may have been an attempted suicide attack.
Security experts said the new details of the Oct. 25 incident would heighten concerns for shipping in the narrow Bab al-Mandab waterway at the entrance to the Red Sea, a major choke point in the world oil trade.
In an initial statement last week, shipping group Teekay (TK) said its LNG (liquefied natural gas) tanker Galicia Spirit had “experienced a suspected piracy attack” but no one had managed to board it.
In an update on Thursday, Teekay said it had now conducted an investigation with security experts. This indicated that “the skiff (small boat) that engaged in an attack on the Galicia Spirit using small arms was also carrying a substantial amount of explosives”.
It added: "While the intentions of the attackers and the use of the explosives is unknown, the investigation findings indicate that the explosives would have been sufficient to have caused significant damage to the vessel.
“It appears, however, that when the skiff was approximately 20m (metres) from the vessel, the explosives detonated, destroying the skiff and ending the attack.”
No details have emerged of how many attackers there were, or what happened to them, but maritime sources said the information to date indicated this was probably not piracy.
“If the circumstances are as described, it was an ambitious attempt carried out by people who didn’t expect to survive,” said one source with detailed knowledge of the area.
“An LNG vessel also has a double skin (hull), but if the explosives were enough to penetrate the main hull, then it is certainly possible that damage would have been done to the inner skin and gas could have escaped and ignited.”
Teekay said the vessel suffered minor damage with no injuries to the crew.