Oil sanctions have cost Syria $2 billion, oil minister says

Syria’s oil minister said sanctions imposed by Western governments on his country’s petroleum exports have cost $2 billion in lost revenues since last September.

“We have suffered important losses as a result of our inability to export crude oil and petroleum products,” said Sufian Alao, adding that the shortfall and losses from Sept. 1, 2011, until now add up to that $2 billion total.

The European Union, which bought most of Syria’s 130,000 b/d of oil exports, imposed sanctions on Sept. 2, following a similar decision by the US.

Alao said the embargo has caused a plunge in production of 150,000 b/d. Alao also said sanctions were imposed on five state-owned firms, namely General Petroleum Corp., Syrian Co. for Oil Transport, Syrian Gas Co., Syrian Petroleum Co., and Sytrol.

In his statement of losses, Alao—adopting a government view—said “terrorist” attacks on oil and gas pipelines and other energy infrastructure targets had killed 21 workers, disrupted supplies and caused an estimated $34 million in damages.

In December, the United Nations said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s security forces had killed more than 5,000 people since the unrest erupted in mid-March. The government responded by saying that “armed terrorist groups” had killed 2,000 security personnel.

Alao told state media that Syria was still trying to replace EU crude oil contracts with new customers, but that it was having trouble securing the necessary shipping insurance and trade credit.

The outlook for Syria’s oil exports worsened after UK Prime Minister David Cameron called on Jan. 19 for harsher sanctions on Damascus in an effort to further weaken al-Assad’s regime.

Cameron said, “Britain needs to lead the way in making sure we tighten the sanctions, the travel bans, the asset freezes, on Syria.” He also accused Iran and the Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah movement of supporting al-Assad, who he called “a wretched tyrant.”

Current EU sanctions target 30 entities and 86 individual Syrians, but EU diplomats said a further 8 companies or institutions and 22 individuals would be targeted by stricter sanctions to be agreed by member states on Jan. 23—the same day that further sanctions are to be considered against Iran.

Meanwhile, US officials said they identified an Iranian-chartered tanker attempting to carry Syrian oil to the Islamic Republic for resale, with the proceeds apparently to be returned to Damascus.

Earlier reports said the tanker took on 91,000 tonnes of crude in late November at Syria’s Mediterranean seaport of Baniyas, and intended to unload it at Iran's Ras Bahregan oil terminal.

US officials notified the ship’s insurers and registry that in picking up the Syrian oil, the ship had violated US sanctions that prohibit doing business with Syria's petroleum sector.

The tanker was insured by the Mutual Protection and Indemnity Club (P&I) and registered by the Liberian International Ship and Corporate Registry, headquartered in Washington, DC.

Contact Eric Watkins at hippalus@yahoo.com.

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