A burning tanker off Malaysia rings the alarm bells of the Shadow Fleet

By Ann Koh and Kok Leong Chan (Bloomberg) —

Three crew members of a Gabon-registered tanker that caught fire in the South China Sea on Monday are missing, an official with Malaysia’s Maritime Patrol Agency said Tuesday.

The Pablo, an Aframax-class crude oil tanker whose insurers are unknown, was sailing from China and was empty, according to ship tracking data compiled by Bloomberg. The ship is rated for about 700,000 barrels of oil when full.

A huge shadow fleet of aging tankers has been recruited to ship sanctioned oil around the globe, raising questions about safety and insurance standards. The Pablo was built in 1997, well past the age at which most tankers are sold for scrap. It was observed in Iranian waters in 2022, said shipping sources, who asked not to be named because they are not authorized to speak to media.

The Maritime & Port Authority of Singapore confirmed in a statement that 25 out of 28 crew members on the Pablo was rescued by passing ships about 40 nautical miles off Pulau Tinggi, an island off the southeast coast of Malaysia.

There was still some smoke coming out of the Pablo, Syahrul Hisham Azli Putera bin Hamzah, a second lieutenant in the Malaysian Maritime Authority’s Johor Division, told Bloomberg on Tuesday afternoon. Three crew members are still missing and no oil was spilled, he said.

Much of the world’s maritime trade passes through the South China Sea, making it a particularly prone region for shadow fleet casualties. A supertanker sanctioned by the US Treasury Department ran aground in Indonesian waters last year.

–With the support of Yongchang Chin.

© 2023 Bloomberg LP

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