Fire extinguished on oil tanker off Syria after suspected attack

Blaze put out on an unidentified oil tanker off Syria’s Banias refinery after a suspected drone attack.

Fire erupted after 'what was believed to be an attack by a drone from the direction of Lebanese waters', state media say [SANA/AFP]

Firefighters have extinguished a fire on an oil tanker off Syria’s Banias refinery after a suspected attack by a drone coming from the direction of Lebanese waters.

The identity of the vessel was unclear with Iran’s semi-official news agency Tasnim denying it was an Iranian ship. TankerTrackers said in a tweet “the tanker seen burning today off the coast of Banias is not an Iranian vessel” but Beirut-registered.

Possible drone attack

Syrian state news agency SANA, which on Sunday cited an oil ministry statement, gave no further details about what it said was a drone attack.

It said the fire erupted after “what was believed to be an attack by a drone from the direction of Lebanese waters”.

Iran’s Arabic-language Al-Alam TV said there was some damage to an Iranian tanker but no casualties. But Iran’s Tasnim news agency, quoting “certain sources”, said: “The accident happened to another vessel … and is not linked to a ship carrying Iranian cargo.”

According to a war monitor, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), at least three people were killed.

“At least three Syrians were killed including two members of the crew” in the attack that sparked a fire, said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of SOHR, without providing details.

The pro-Damascus Al-Mayadeen TV said the tanker was suspected to have been hit by an Israeli drone. The Israeli military declined to comment on the incident.

In a report published last month that cited US and Middle East officials, the Wall Street Journal said Israel had targeted at least a dozen vessels bound for Syria, most carrying Iranian oil, since late 2019.

Hundreds of Israeli air attacks have also struck Syria since the war began in 2011, mostly targeting government allies from Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah movement, as well as Syrian forces.

Early last year, Damascus said divers had planted explosives on offshore pipelines of the Banias refinery, but the damage had not halted operations.

And in February 2020, four oil and gas sites in the central province of Homs were attacked by armed drones, sparking fires and causing material damage.

Natanz attack

Saturday’s attack comes after a Syrian officer was killed and three soldiers wounded on Thursday in attacks launched by Israel after a missile was fired towards a secretive nuclear site in Israel.

The Israeli army said at the time that the surface-to-air missile had been fired from Syria towards the southern Negev desert, where the Dimona nuclear reactor is located.

The exchange of fire came less than two weeks after Iran accused Israel of “terrorism” following an explosion at Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility.

Israel is considered the leading military power in the region, and is widely believed to possess its sole nuclear arsenal.

It has never disclosed its atomic arsenal, but foreign experts say it has between 100 and 300 nuclear warheads.

Fuel shortages

Syria’s coastal town of Banias houses a refinery that along with another in Homs covers a significant part of the country’s demand for diesel, heating fuel, petrol and other petroleum products, according to industry experts.

The war-torn country has faced petrol and fuel shortages over the past year with supplies rationed in government-held areas and prices increased.

Syria has grown more dependent on Iranian oil shipments in recent years but tightening Western sanctions on Iran, Syria and their allies, as well as a foreign currency crunch, have made it more difficult to get enough supplies.

Pre-war production was 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) in Syria.

But it stood at just 89,000bpd in 2020, Syria’s oil minister said in February, of which up to 80,000bpd came from Kurdish areas outside government control.

Source: News Agencies