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Ukraine Damages Sanctioned Russian Tanker in Drone Boat Attack

Ukraine drone boat strike

Published Aug 6, 2023 3:43 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Saturday, a Ukrainian drone boat struck and damaged a Russian product tanker near the Kerch Strait, a Ukrainian intelligence officer confirmed to western media. 

The tanker has been identified as the Sig, which has been under U.S. sanctions since 2019 for its role in transporting jet fuel to Russian forces in Syria. 

A video released Saturday shows the drone boat approaching the tanker's starboard side just below the pilothouse, in way of the engine room. The video feed cuts out as the boat nears the target, as in previously-documented attacks. 

Post-strike images posted by Russian officials show buckling, broken windows and destroyed equipment in the pilothouse. A photo of a crewmembers' cabin shows the overhead buckled in by the force of the blast. The engine room appears to be flooded to a depth of several feet above the deckplates. The ship remains afloat and still has electrical power, and salvage operations are already in progress, according to state news outlet TASS, and two tugs are on scene. 

Ukraine's drone strikes are believed to have damaged at least three vessels to date: Saturday's strike on the Sig, the attack Friday on the Ropucha-class transport Olenegorsky Gornytak, and last year's strike on the frigate Admiral Makarov. The drones are also believed to be responsible for the successful strike on the Kerch Strait Bridge last month. Russia claims to have thwarted many additional drone-strike attempts, including one in the southwestern Black Sea last week

So far, the waterline-level, low-speed drone attacks have not achieved a sinking. However, the drones can strike far beyond the range of Ukraine's limited missile arsenal, and they provide a way to bypass Russia's advanced air defenses and electronic-warfare systems.  

The attacks on the landing ship and the tanker may be viewed in the context of a broader Ukrainian effort to disrupt the logistics chain to occupied Kherson province, where the Ukrainian Army is engaged in a difficult fight against entrenched Russian forces. Ukraine has damaged five bridge spans into the region - the Kerch Strait (road and rail), Chonhar (road and rail) and Heniches'k (road) bridges - in an attempt to cut off the Russian Army's abundant supply of munitions. As the bridge routes shut down, Russia's seaborne transport will have to carry more of the burden. 

Over the same time period, Russia has begun a campaign of drone strikes on Ukrainian grain terminals in Odesa and along the Danube, drawing international condemnation for its decision to systematically target food exports.