An oil tanker that burst into flames following a suspected drone attack outside the Baniyas refinery off Syria’s coast was doused, Syria’s oil ministry said.
The state news agency SANA quoted oil ministry as saying the fire erupted after “what was believed to be an attack by a drone from the direction of Lebanese waters”.
The identity of the vessel was unclear, with Iran’s al-Alam TV saying it was one of three Iranian oil tankers that had recently arrived at the Syrian oil terminal with supplies, while the semi-official news agency Tasnim denied it was Iranian.
The coastal town of Baniyas houses a refinery, which along with another in Homs, covers a significant part of Syrian demand for diesel, heating fuel, gasoline and other petroleum products, according to industry experts.
The sanctions-hit, war-torn country has over the past year faced gasoline and fuel shortages, rationing supplies in government-held areas and hiking prices.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a United Kingdom-based war monitor, also reported that the tanker had sailed from Iran.
An explosion hit the ship, triggering a fire and resulting in material damage, and three deaths, the Syrian observatory added.
“It’s the first such attack on an oil tanker, but the Baniyas terminal has been targeted in the past,” observatory head Rami Abdurrahman said.
“At least three Syrians were killed, including two members of the crew.”
It was also not clear if a drone or a missile was used in the attack, the Observatory said.
Before Syria’s war, the country enjoyed relative energy autonomy, but production has plummeted during the war, pushing the government to rely on importing hydrocarbons.
Syria has in recent years grown more dependent on Iranian oil shipments 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 in Syria.
But it stood at just 89,000 barrels per day in 2020, Syria’s oil minister said in February, of which up to 80,000 came from Kurdish areas outside government control.