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Mysterious explosion on oil tanker off coast of Banias

An explosion rocked an oil tanker off the coast of Tartus on Sunday, causing a small fire in one of its engines, state media said.

The fire on the ship - off the coast of Syria's Mediterranean port of Banias - was extinguished by the crew quickly with no casualties, it said.

"The technical fault took place in one of the engines of the oil tanker near the coast... it caused a small fire and a plume of smoke," state media said.

Local radio station FM Sham said earlier that an explosion had hit a tanker during maintenance work after it had caught fire a few days earlier while offloading its oil cargo.

Banias houses a refinery which, along with another in Homs, covers a significant part of the country's demand for diesel, heating fuel, gasoline and other petroleum products, according to industry experts.

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 supply. 

This explosion comes amid reports of IDF strikes against Hezbollah and Iranian outposts in Syria in recent weeks. On Tuesday, an alleged Israeli airstrike targeted a site near Latakia and Tartus along Syria’s Mediterranean coast, according to the Syrian state news agency SANA.

A civilian was killed and six were injured, including a child, according to Syrian media.

In April, an Iranian tanker was reportedly attacked off the Syrian coast according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. It was unclear what happened, as Iran media was slow to report details. However, Syrian state media did quote an oil ministry member as saying a fire took place on “what was believed to be an attack by a drone.”

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."

In March, a Wall Street Journal story claimed that Israel had struck “dozens” of Iranian vessels bound for Syria. 

In early April, an Iranian ship, believed to serve as an IRGC ship and used for surveillance and possibly terror operations, was struck in the Red Sea. Iran blamed Israel and the US for the attack on the ship, which it denied was involved in military or terrorist activities. 

Several Israeli-owned ships have also been attacked, allegedly by Iran in response. One was reportedly struck on April 13 and others were hit on February 26 and March 25. The attacks targeted the Helios Ray and Hyperian Ray. Iran also vowed revenge for what it said was “nuclear terror” on its Natanz enrichment facility on April 12. Tehran has been angered by the ship attacks. 

Israel has regularly attacked what it says are Iranian-linked targets in Syria in recent years, and stepped up such strikes this year in what Western intelligence sources describe as a shadow war to reduce Iran’s influence.

(Reuters, Jerusalem Post)

Reuters
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