News World Middle East Accident or attack? Oil tanker burns off Syrian coast

Accident or attack? Oil tanker burns off Syrian coast

Unarmed and loaded with combustible fuel, oil tankers are sitting ducks in the Middle East's troubled waters. Photo: AAP
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Three Syrians have died in a fire that broke out on an Iranian oil tanker off the Syrian coastal city of Baniyas.

Syria’s oil ministry said firefighters on Saturday put out a fire after a suspected attack by a drone coming from the direction of Lebanon.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the explosion had hit the ship near a major oil refinery, triggering the fire and resulting in material damage. However, the Britain-based watchdog cautioned that the evidence of a deliberate attack was as yet inconclusive.

If the inferno was a deliberate assault, it would be “the first such attack on an oil tanker, but the Banias terminal has been targeted in the past,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.

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

The blaze  was confined to one of the vessel’s tanks by firefighting teams that later extinguished the blaze, Syria’s SANA news agency said.

SANA carried images showing smoke billowing from the tanker.

Syria has been roiled by a civil war for more than 10 years.

Russia and Iran back Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey has been supporting opposition forces since a pro-democracy uprising erupted against his rule in March 2011.