Greek-owned ships load last oil from Russia over January
Forty per cent of tankers tracked at key Russian oil export ports this month were owned by Greek companies that will have to leave the lucrative trades once the EU’s ban on refined products begins on February 5
Dark-fleet tankers ship one third of Russian oil, with at least six newly sold elderly tankers lifting crude from the federation for the first time over the past month
GREEK-owned tankers shipped 40% of oil from Russia’s key Baltic and Black Sea export ports over January, the last month they can take advantage of trading premiums for operating in the region before European Union sanctions lock them out of the market.
January’s figures also show that the dark fleet comprised 33% of tankers above 15,000 dwt that loaded oil and refined products from the ports of Primorsk, Ust-Luga, St Petersburg, Novorossiysk and Tuapse between January 1-30.
That was level with vessel-tracking data seen over December, when EU sanctions on seaborne crude imports were imposed, alongside an oil price cap that prevents marine service providers, including owners and insurers, from shipping cargoes to third countries unless they are compliant with a $60 per barrel price.
The biggest change in fleet composition this month was seen in Russian-linked tankers, which only loaded 8% of cargoes from the two regions. That was down from 18% in December and reflects the diversion of Sovcomflot fleet tankers to Russia’s eastern coast to load crude from ports there for direct shipment to China.
Russia has refused to sell to countries under the oil price cap, and crude cargoes for India and China, now the biggest buyers, are directly sailing to these destinations on Russian-controlled tankers to circumvent sanctions, vessel-tracking shows. The Group of Seven industrialised nations plus Australia imposed the cap in conjunction with the EU bans.
Further EU bans on refined products begin on February 5, which will displace all Greece-linked ships and those flagged with EU registries from shipping outside the bloc unless they comply with a yet-to-be revealed price cap.
Until December, Greek-owned tankers comprised around half of tankers carrying Russian crude exports from Baltic and Black Sea ports, securing a greater proportion of business than pre-invasion, as many other shipowners left the market, citing reputational risk.
Before Russia invaded Ukraine last February, Greek-owned tankers accounted for one third of shipments from the federation’s key oil export ports, vessel-tracking data show. There is no suggestion that Greek-owned tankers are breaching sanctions.
What is also changing rapidly in 2023 is the number of new tankers entering what is now referred to as the ‘dark fleet’. Many are engaged in ship-to-ship transfers of Russian oil in key hubs in international waters off Greece and Gibraltar to consolidate cargoes and simplify logistics.
The dark fleet refers to elderly tankers that have been recently sold to anonymous companies setting up byzantine corporate structures to obfuscate ownership before deploying the vessel solely in sanctioned trades, often in conjunction with deceptive shipping practices.
These ships have joined other dark-fleet tankers that were previously engaged in US-sanctioned Iranian and Venezuelan trades but relocated and switched to Russian oil flows. There are now about 300 tankers, up from 220 in mid-2022.
Recently sold ships that have joined the dark fleet and loaded Russian cargoes this month include the Liberia-flagged, 2006-built, 34,663 dwt Sultan (IMO: 9306641). The vessel was sold in December and is now owned by Turkey-based Melousa Maritime Company Limited, a newly formed single-ship company.
Nineteen-year-old Panama-flagged panamax product tanker Plutus (IMO: 9252955) changed ownership in November, with its ISM manager listed as United Arab Emirates-based Macario Shipping, which has 15 tankers engaged in sanctioned trading, most of which are recently purchased.
Another of the Macario ships, 2006-built, Panama-flagged suezmax tanker Ikara (IMO: 9321718) bought in October, recently delivered a Novorossiysk-loaded crude cargo from mid-December to India’s Jamnagar refinery.
The tanker had waited in the middle of the Arabian Sea for nearly 25 days, before sailing to the discharge port.
The UAE is not the only emerging centre of dark fleet ownership, company registration or management in Russian trades, with anonymous Chinese owners also identified by Lloyd’s List over the past six months.
Shanghai-based Shunxiang Ship Management, which bought Panama-flagged aframax tanker Crius (IMO: 9251274) last November that was noted this month, is linked to another two suezmax tankers, Scorpius (IMO: 9264893) and Fiona II (IMO: 9262766).
Both of these tankers are off the eastern coast of Singapore, a common ship-to-ship transfer and cargo consolidation region for China-bound oil cargoes from Russia, Iran and Venezuela.
The Greek owner with the biggest exposure to Russian shipments this month was George Economou’s TMS Tankers, with 12 aframax tankers.
Absent for the first time in January were product tankers owned and operated by US-listed Scorpio Group, which had maintained a smaller presence in shipping middle distillates.
Sanctions on Russia have recalibrated seaborne crude flows, with Türkiye, China, and India now the biggest buyers. A similar upheaval for refined products trade is expected in February, especially for global diesel shipments.
The EU27 relied on Russia to supply around 40% of its ultra-low sulphur diesel, and will now have to source additional supplies from refineries in the Middle East, India and to a lesser extent the US for middle distillates.
Russia will have to find new markets and tankers to ship its diesel and gasoline to new destinations, setting up the next five weeks for volatile trading conditions.