Robert HARNEIS -TDO- (FRANCE)- According to the United States Naval Institute News an Iranian tanker bringing fuel to Syria was escorted by two Russian warships from the Suez Canal to the Baniyas Marine terminal.
The Iranian-flagged oil tanker Samah entered the Mediterranean Sea via the Suez Canal. It then stopped reporting its position and destination. The ship then sailed to Syria, escorted by two Russian Navy ships, including a destroyer.
Russia’s role in protecting the shipment may change the dynamics in the Eastern Mediterranean. In the past, Iranian tankers sailing to Syria have been intercepted by the U.K. Royal Navy. The Russian Navy escort could be viewed as a precautionary step, raising the political and military risks of any intervention by the Royal Navy or others.
Last July, an Iranian tanker destined for Syria, Adrian Darya-1, was seized by U.K. Royal Marines off Gibraltar. The British accused Iran of supplying Syria with oil in contravention of European Union sanctions. Iran quickly seized a British-flagged tanker in a likely retaliatory move. Eventually, in September, Adrian Darya-1 was released by a local court with the assurance that it would not deliver its oil to Syria – but days later, it transshipped its oil in Syrian waters. Even so the delivery of vital fuel to Syria was delayed.
The Samah took the shorter Suez Canal route, avoiding the Straits of Gibraltar. According to data provided by MarineTraffic.com, after exiting the Suez Canal the tanker disappeared from automated identification system tracking. AIS is a system used to alert ships of each other’s presence and is required to be used by ships of this size. Other ships in the vicinity remained visible on AIS, which implies that Samah deliberately stopped broadcasting.
The Samah was escorted by the Russian navy logistics ship the Akademik Pashin. They were escorted by a warship, believed to be the Udaloy-class destroyer Vice Admiral Kulakov. They were seen traveling in loose formation, with Akademik Pashin leading the way and the destroyer as rear guard. It is impossible to say whether a Russian naval submarine was also in the vicinity but it is likely.
By the morning of Oct. 17, a tanker resembling Samah was anchored off the Baniyas oil terminal in Syria.
The Russian Navy has indicated that it will be more active in escorting merchant ships in the region. After the previous troubled Iranian delivery, the Russian Navy publicized an exercise off Syria, meant to protect “the smooth passage of civilian ships.” A simulated attack by a submarine was dealt with by Vice Admiral Kulakov, which may be intended to send a message to allies and potential adversaries alike that Russia will actively prevent any interference with the Iranian shipments.
Russia maintains a permanent squadron in the Mediterranean, based in Tartus, Syria. This includes submarines and large warships. If Moscow decides the Iran-Syria oil run is now a regular mission for the Russian Navy it will make attempts to enforce Western sanctions, which could otherwise shut down one of the Syrian regime’s vital lifelines, a great deal more risky.
Syria's oil unloading Baniyas terminal was sabotaged in June 2019 and the terminal was bombed in 2012, before Russian air defense systems were put in place.
Syria has recently suffered fuel shortages as a result of enhanced US sanctions under the Caesar Act and the US occupation of much of Syria’s oil fields.