A US-sanctioned Russian tanker near the strategic bridge linking Russia to Crimea was damaged by a sea drone attack, Russian maritime officials said early on Saturday.
No one was hurt in the attack on the SIG tanker, but the Crimean Bridge and ferry transport were suspended for several hours, said Russia-installed officials in Crimea, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
The United States sanctioned the chemical tanker and its owner, St. Petersburg-based Transpetrochart, in 2019 for helping provide jet fuel to Russian forces in Syria.
"The SIG tanker... received a hole in the engine room near the waterline on the starboard side, preliminarily as a result of a sea drone attack," Russia's Federal Marine and River Transport agency said in a statement on the Telegram messaging app.
Russia claims that the tanker was hit by a Ukrainian drone
Russian media said the tanker, approaching the Kerch Strait that links the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, was hit by Ukrainian drones.
Ukraine's Interfax agency, citing an unnamed Ukrainian security service source, said the attack was conducted by Ukraine's security and naval forces in its territorial waters, using sea drones.
Vasyl Malyuk, head of Ukraine's SBU security service, did not directly say that Ukraine had attacked the vessel, but he commented that any incident with Russian ships or the Crimean bridge was "an absolutely logical and efficient step towards the enemy."
"Moreover, such special operations are conducted in the territorial waters of Ukraine and are completely legal," Malyuk said on the Telegram messaging app.
Reuters could not immediately verify the reports. There was no immediate comment from Ukraine.
Ukraine almost never publicly claims responsibility for attacks inside Russia or on Russian-controlled territory in Ukraine, but has been saying in recent months that destroying Russia's military infrastructure helps Kyiv's counteroffensive in the 17-month-old Russian invasion.
Overnight a Russian warship was seriously damaged in a Ukrainian naval drone attack on Russia's navy base at Novorossiysk, the first time the Ukrainian navy has projected its power so far from the country's shores.
Moscow-installed officials in Crimea said the Crimean Bridge, which was completed by Russia in 2018 and has come under serious attack twice in the war, was not targeted in the tanker attack.
"Once again, there was no direct attack on the Crimea Bridge and there was no explosion in the immediate vicinity," Oleg Kryuchkov, an adviser to the Russia-installed governor of Crimea, said on his Telegram channel.
Ukraine's UNIAN news agency said three explosions had been reported in the area.
A Russian-appointed official in Ukraine's southeastern region of Zaporizhzhia, Vladimir Rogov, posted an audio clip in which the tanker requested a tow from tugboats.
Rogov, writing on the Telegram messaging app, posted pictures of what he described as shattered fixtures and equipment inside the vessels. Telegram channels linked to Russia's security services posted similar photos.
The ship, Rogov said, had been supplying oil to Russian troops in Syria.