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ConflictsMiddle East

Oil tanker explosion off Syrian coast kills three

April 25, 2021

Syrian media has said a drone attack is responsible for igniting a fire on the tanker that killed three workers. The vessel is suspected to have been carrying Iranian oil.

Burning tanker off the Syrian coast
Syrian oil infrastructure has been targeted in the pastImage: SANA/AFP

At least three people died in an explosion on a oil tanker off the coast of the Syrian refinery town of Baniyas on Saturday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Firefighters were able to extinguish the blaze, which destroyed one of the vessel's tanks. 

There are conflicting reports as to the tanker's identity. It was first reported that it was Iranian.

However, Iran's semi-official news agency Tasnim denied this, and the tracking website TankerTrackers said in a tweet that "the tanker seen burning today off the coast of Baniyas is not an Iranian vessel," but is a Beirut-registered tanker.

Who carried out the alleged attack?

Syria's state news agency SANA, citing the country's oil ministry, said the tanker was attacked by a by a "drone from the direction of Lebanese waters." There has been no claim of responsibility for the alleged attack.

The pro-Syrian government outlet al-Mayadeen TV said the tanker was suspected to have been hit by an Israeli drone, although this claim cannot be verified and the Israeli military has not commented. 

"We don't know if this was an Israeli attack," Syrian Observatory for Human Rights head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP news agency. 

Baniyas is home to an oil refinery, which provides a large portion of Syria's petroleum needs. Before the Syrian civil war, the country enjoyed a stable energy autonomy, but production plummeted as the war continued. Syria has since grown more dependent on Iranian oil shipments, but Western sanctions complicate oil shipments. 

Oil is a known target 

There has been a series of mysterious attacks on oil vessels in recent months in the Middle East amid rising tension in the region between Iran, Israel and the United States.

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

In February 2020, four oil and gas sites in Syria's central province of Homs were attacked by armed drones.

 "It's the first such attack on an oil tanker, but the Baniyas terminal has been targeted in the past," Abdel Rahman said.

kbd/wmr (AFP, dpa, Reuters)