7 May 2011

Libya: Gaddafi forces ‘bomb oil storage tanks in Misrata’

Chief Correspondent

Rebels in Libya say Colonel Gaddafi’s planes have bombed oil storage tanks in Misrata. But Channel 4 News Chief Correspondent Alex Thomson says they may be not be accurate reports.

Libya: an inured man awaits treatment in Benghazi after being evacuated from Misrata (Getty)

For sheer audacity in the teeth of NATO’s “no-fly zone”, it would have taken some beating.

Rebels claimed one – possibly two – small crop-spraying planes laden with incendiary bombs (probably improvised) appeared over Misrata‘s port and hit four fuel storage tanks, destroying them, and setting fire to four more.

Perhaps it was a little too audacious and belongs more in the fog of war than reality.

Further, I am sadly no longer on the ground in Misrata to be able to verify developments for myself.

However my ever-thorough colleague and former US Marine, Chris Chivers of the New York Times has visited the stricken fuel tanks in Misrata’s port.

There he found debris from Grad missiles and you cannot fire them from light planes or helicopters.

So on balance I’d say NYT evidence is a whole lot more reliable than rumour-addicted rebels in the city.

In short – it looks like it was Grads not planes.

Misrata under attack

Sources in the besieged city say the depot was the city’s only fuel source, storing enough to keep the place going for three months.

The storage tanks are just south of the area where the Red Star rescue ferry has docked in recent weeks.

Read more: Misrata strike mystery - exclusive pictures

It is not yet clear what effect this will have but it appears serious since any future effort to bring in fuel would run up against the lack of any storage capacity.

Rebels say they cannot extinguish the large fire as they have no tenders equipped for the task.

This comes soon after another strike on the port area on Thursday night. This time the New York Times reports that modified Grad rockets were used to distribute Type-84 landmines around the port area.

At least two rebel fighters were injured after their truck struck the mines. Rebel forces set about detonating the mines by shooting them. They claim the port was cleared after a couple of hours.

Read more: Libya war - strike against Gaddafi 

All in all it indicates how Misrata’s become the line in the sand of the Libyan war. Neither side can afford to lose it. Both are under differing forms of intense strategic pressures. Both are improvising accordingly.

Misrata port remains the crucible of this struggle. The only way in and out for rebel resupply. And thus, the critical target for Government forces.