Overnight saw a major escalation on the Black Sea in the wake of the grain deal collapse, and as Russia is waging war on Ukrainian ports and its ability to export foodstuffs to international markets.
Ukrainian drones reportedly scored a direct hit on a Russian tanker in the Kerch Strait, resulting in damage, however there have been no reports of casualties among the 11 civilian crew members on board. The attack happened at about 11:20 pm Friday (local) just south of the Kerch Strait, according to a statement by Russia's Federal Agency for Sea and Inland Water Transport.
The Russian tanker has since been identified in various international reports as the chemical tanker SIG. The Russian maritime agency described damage "presumably as a result of an attack by a marine drone," in a Telegram statement. "The ship is afloat," it added.
The statement detailed that there is a hole "near the waterline on the starboard side, presumably as a result of a sea drone attack" and confirmed there were no casualties.
SIG has previously come under Washington sanctions for transporting jet fuel to Russian forces in Syria. This strongly suggests US intelligence assisted the Ukrainians with targeting information. Again, this is given that this specific tanker happened to be a sanctioned vessel, connected with Russian logistics in Syria.
"The detonation due to the explosion on the ship was visible from the peninsula, which the local residents thought was an explosion in the vicinity of Yakovenkovo settlement not far from the Crimean bridge," a Russia-installed official in Zaporizhzhia region said additionally.
Saturday morning brings news of another Ukrainian naval drone attack. This time on Russian tanker SIG, which is under US sanctions for aiding Syria, in Kerch Strait. Comes a day after an attack on Novorossiysk port and a Russian landing ship. If anyone thought that was a fluke… pic.twitter.com/TdPxSUyk7u— Christopher Miller (@ChristopherJM) August 5, 2023
Ukraine's military and intelligence appeared to own up to the attack, which in recent weeks has been a new trend, considering through most of the conflict Ukraine has remained silent in terms of taking responsibility for operations in Russian territory. NBC details of Ukrainian officials' words:
The tanker was “transporting fuel for the Russian troops,” the source said, adding that it was well loaded and “the ‘fireworks’ could be seen from afar.” They said that a surface drone and TNT had been used to carry out the attack. NBC News could not verify their claims.
Video broadcast on Ukrainian television and shared by several officials on social media showed a sea drone moving towards the tanker before striking it. The footage cuts out before an explosion is visible. NBC News was not able to independently verify the footage.
SBU chief Vasyl Malyuk responded to the attack in a Telegram post. “Any explosions that happen with the ships of the Russian Federation or the Crimean bridge is an absolutely logical and effective step in relation to the enemy,” he said.
"If the Russians want the explosions to stop, they should use the only option for this — to leave the territorial waters of Ukraine," the SBU chief added. As for the Crimean bridge, traffic had been briefly halted as a result of the late night attack, but later resumed normally.
Within hours prior to the tanker attack, a Ukrainian sea drone had severely damaged a Russian naval vessel -the Olenogorsky Gornyak - off the port of Novorossiysk, a major hub for Russian exports. These fresh and growing tit-for-tat attacks in and around the Black Sea suggest the prospect for "unlimited war" is growing.
"A new phase"...
Ukrainian sea drones attacked an oil tanker sanctioned by the U.S. for working for the Russian military, potentially bringing the war into a new phase that threatens Russia’s vital shipping lanes https://t.co/9zgEgVFs5H via @WSJ— Jared Malsin (@jmalsin) August 5, 2023
Since the Feb.2022 invasion it's been clear that in many ways the Russians have "held back", also given they had pulled back forces from the capital of Kiev. But increasingly, in the past week locations and infrastructure which had largely been spared from attacks have now been obliterated.