Photo: Chernomorneftegaz drilling rigs; Credit: Ukrainian news agency UNIAN

After missiles hit Black Sea platforms, reports indicate fire still burning

Following an alleged missile strike on three platforms operated by the Crimea-based oil and gas company Chernomorneftegaz, satellite images indicate the fire is still visible at the site in the Black Sea. Russian official claims that the strike left behind several injured and missing persons.

As the war wages in Ukraine, reports of a missile strike against offshore energy infrastructure in Crimea surfaced on Monday, and Sergey Aksyonov, head of Russian-annexed Crimea, pointed the finger at Ukraine, accusing the country of shelling the Black Sea oil drilling platforms off the peninsula, which allegedly led to three people being injured and another seven missing.

NASA FIRMS satellite fire-detection data from 20 June 2022 appears to confirm a blaze at a location off the west coast of Crimea. According to satellite images from the U.S. aerospace agency, NASA, four fires were visible on 22 June.

Fire in the Black Sea on 22 June 2022 Source NASA
Fire in the Black Sea on 22 June 2022; Source: NASA

While casting the blame on the Ukrainian military, Askyonov said in a post on Telegram: “This morning, the enemy attacked the drilling platforms of Chornomorneftegaz. I am in touch with colleagues from the Ministry of Defense and the FSB, we are working on saving people.

“Five people were rescued, three of them were injured. The search for the rest continues. The Ministry of Defense ensures the conduct of a rescue operation with the participation of patrol ships and aviation. We will keep everyone up to date.”

Afterwards, Olga Kovitidi, Russian senator for Crimea, revealed that the production was suspended following the strike, adding that “the deposit was saved and the man-made catastrophe was averted,” as reported by the Russian news agency, TASS.

“[Containment] of the fire continues at present. Our vessel attempted to approach but failed to do so. The fire is immediately close to the well. The search for people did not bear fruit. Military personnel continues operations,” stated Kovitidi in an update on Tuesday.

After a video started circulating following this strike on drilling platforms in the Black Sea, Reuters went on a fact-finding mission, revealing that the footage has been circulating online since at least 10 December 2008 and is not related to this alleged incident, which the news agency was unable to verify, as Ukraine’s military declined to comment.

While Kyiv believes that the three offshore platforms, known as the Boyko towers, are used for military reconnaissance in the Black Sea, there was no official confirmation from Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense about the alleged attack.

In an interview with TSN, Oleg Zhdanov, a military expert, described the Boyko towers as “military installations” and “ears and eyes of the Russian Black Sea Fleet,” adding that “radar stations and maritime radars were placed on these towers, which gave the Russian Federation the opportunity to control the entire Black Sea area along our coast.” Zhdanov further stated that the strike on these offshore platforms “deprived the Russian fleet of the ability to control the Black Sea.”

Located about 70 kilometres south of Odesa, the three platforms (BK-1, BK-2, and BK-3) are situated at the Odeske gas field on the continental shelf of the Black Sea. After being discovered in 2009, the field was developed by Chornomornaftogaz, a subsidiary of Ukraine’s state-owned energy company, Naftogaz.

The development of this field was done in cooperation with the China National Offshore Oil Corporation and commercial production started on 5 September 2012. After Russia annexed the Crimea Peninsula in 2014, the platforms were seized by the Russian-backed regime in Crimea.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s South Operational Command posted on Facebook that a “concentrated blow was dealt to the Snake Island, using different forces and means of destruction,” adding that “the military operation continues and requires information silence until it is over.”

Fears of retaliation were stoked, as Sergey Gorbachev, a Russian military expert, told the Russian state news agency Ria-Novosti: “If we didn’t use multiple launch rocket systems at all before, then gradually the actions of Ukraine forced us to go on the rise. I do not exclude that the attacks on the Chornomorneftegaz towers will lead to a response in the use of more powerful weapons.

“The status of the objects may already be different. We talked a lot about the centres of combat control and decision-making. One way or another, this whole thing involves other territories and other objects.”

Russia’s attack on Ukraine has led to a geopolitical crisis, which has left Europe in “dire need of new, committed gas partners” as the European Union (EU) searches for a way to end its reliance on Russian fossil fuels, planning to ban almost 90 per cent of Russian oil imports by the end of the year.

In line with these aims, the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, recently said that tapping into Israel’s vast renewable sources of energy will help reduce the EU’s dependence on Russia.

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Von der Leyen sees the EuroAsia Interconnector – connecting Israel, Cyprus and Greece – as an investment in both Europe’s and Israel’s energy security, believing that the infrastructure will also contribute to decarbonising the EU’s energy mix.