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Satellite images show Syria oil spill spreading towards Cyprus

A crack in a tank containing 15,000 tons of fuel at Baniyas Thermal Power Plant led to the spread of an oil slick over tens of square kilometres in the Mediterranean
Syrian workers clean up an oil spill with metal cans and a digger near Banias Thermal Power Plant, 28 August 2021 (Screengrab)

Satellite imagery has revealed a massive oil spill on the Syrian coast spreading across the Mediterranean towards the shores of Cyprus.

The spill, caused by leakage from a fuel tank at Syria’s Banias Thermal Power Plant, has caused severe pollution that threatens marine and sea life around the facility, and local authorities have launched clean-up operations in the area.

While Israel said last week that the spill in Syria's northeast did not threaten its coast in the south, the island of Cyprus risks being affected.

Satellite images show an oil slick covering tens of square kilometres and stretching from Syria’s western coast to the north and then west to Cyprus.

Syria’s state news agency (SANA) reported on Monday that the majority of the fuel poured into the sea had ended up along the coast of Baniyas and Jableh 20km to the north of the refinery.

Local media also posted images of workers cleaning the shore with shovels, metal cans and a digger.

On 23 August, a crack in a tank containing 15,000 tons of fuel at Banias Thermal Power Plant led to the spread of an oil slick over an estimated 120 square kilometres. Some experts estimate the current spread of the oil slick to be as much as 1000 square kilometres.

Oil wars

Though Syria's two functioning oil refineries in Banias and Homs remain under the control of Damascus, the country's oil resources in the east are held by Kurdish-led forces and the US military.  

Prior to 2011, the Banias refinery provided 20 percent of Syria's fuel needs and was one of five refineries in the country. 

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In May, a major fire engulfed a significant part of the Homs refinery, following a leak in a pumping station. This was the second blaze at the site in 2021.

Earlier in January, a huge blaze hit the depot area near Homs station sweeping across a number of oil tankers loading crude oil from an installation.

In April, three people died when an Iranian tanker was attacked off Syria's coast. Syria has blamed Israel for the attack, the first of its kind since Syria's civil war started a decade ago.

Syria is under US sanctions, making it dependent on oil shipments from its ally Iran. 

Middle East Eye contacted Cyprus' communication office for a comment but had not received a response at the time of publication.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.