Dark side of shipping in murky waters


Nations that are exporting under sanctions –mainly for oil exports – are slipping through international restrictions and managing their exports with guile, but that may be changing.

There are more than 700 ships operating today in what a data analytics firm brands the opaque fleet, carrying Russian, Venezuelan or Iranian oil.  Flags of convenience fly all over this seascape, such as ships registered in Mongolia, inconveniently landlocked but still into it.

At the helm of this new renegade shipping class are Russia, Venezuela and Iran which are all blessed with oil and desperate to sell it.

However, the noose is tightening as these nations try to elude scrutiny from international observers by shifting from the old sources of vessels to the less obvious – in this case younger – vessels as carriers of illicit cargo.  The so-called dark fleet is becoming an easy red-flag target for inspectors around the world.

Among shared characteristics making them easy to spot for port state control inspectors are their age, generally above 17 years old, as well as their choice of flag, insurer, and latterly their classification society choice.

Among the underperforming ships listed by the Tokyo MOU for April, for instance, are ships classed by little-known class societies including Asia Shipping Certification Services from landlocked Mongolia, a nation that is also flagging more and more of the dark fleet. Other class societies popping up on detained vessel lists include the Dalian-headquartered Union Bureau of Shipping, Belize-based Novel Classification Society, Overseas Marine Certification Services from Panama, and Yantai-based Universal Maritime Bureau.

“Although insufficient documentation and safety lapses are typical for vessels operating in opaque markets carrying Russian, Iranian and Venezuelan crude, the increasing number of tankers detained in Asian ports could mark a potential shift in the attitude towards ageing vessels operating in the grey fleet,” Maersk Broker noted in its latest weekly tanker report.

“The simple fact is that a growing number of vessels that are transporting oil are insured, flagged, and classed with institutions and countries that do not provide anything like the same technical and regulatory oversight as we have come to expect, while those providing the insurance cover lack the experience, and quite possibly the financial capacity, to deal with a major incident,” commented Mike Salthouse, a sanctions expert and head of external affairs at NorthStandard, a P&I club, in conversation with Splash 24/7 last month.

Reports indicate there were at least eight groundings, collisions or near misses involving tankers carrying sanctioned oil products in 2022 – the same number as in the previous three years, the Allianz report noted. SOURCE: The Loadstar

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