“Shadow” tanker fleet increases the risk of accidents Ship’s crew


By Jonathan Saul

LONDON, March 23 (Reuters) – An oil tanker runs aground off east China, leaking fuel into the water. Another is involved in a collision near Cuba. A third is arrested in Spain for running out of control.

Those ships were part of a “shadow” fleet of tankers that transported oil from countries hit by Western sanctions over the past year, according to a Reuters analysis of ship-tracking and casualty data and interviews with more than a dozen industry specialists.

Hundreds of additional ships have joined this opaque parallel trade in recent years as a result of rising Iranian oil exports as well as restrictions on Russian energy sales due to the war in Ukraine, industry players, which include commodity traders, shipping companies, insurers and regulators, said.

“The risk of having an accident is definitely increasing,” said Eric Hanell, CEO of tanker operator Stena Bulk. “We could be affected when we’re in a port…because someone hits us or loses control, which is a much greater risk with ships like this because they’re older and not as well maintained.”

lead many certification provider And engine manufacturer who approve of seaworthiness and safety have withdrawn their services from ships transporting oil from sanctioned Iran, Russia and Venezuela, as well as a host of insurerwhich means that ships carrying combustible cargoes are subject to less supervision.

Some industry insiders worry that this parallel trade, which moves tens of millions of barrels of oil around the world, could undermine decades of industry efforts to increase ship safety in the wake of disasters, including the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska that caused devastating environmental damage.

According to a Reuters analysis based on vessel tracking information and Lloyd’s List Intelligence data on the vessel, there have been at least eight groundings, collisions or near misses involving tankers carrying sanctioned crude oil or oil products in the past year, including events off China, Cuba and Spain incidents.

That’s the same number as the previous three years combined, although it’s still a fraction of the 61 total incidents recorded across the shipping industry in 2022, the analysis says.

None of the eight incidents caused injuries or significant pollution. However, some executives are concerned.

“You have the dark fleet that hasn’t been scrutinized as thoroughly, and that’s worrying,” said Jan Dieleman, president of the marine transportation division of commodities giant Cargill. “We don’t have an overview of maintenance and safety because nobody really goes on board the ships and does checks – that’s missing.”

Government officials from Iran, Venezuela and Russia, which do not recognize Western sanctions, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the article.

Several of the shipping stakeholders surveyed said oil producers hit by sanctions had no choice but to use less rigorously vetted ships to keep their exports flowing and prop up their ailing economies.


Estimates of the size of the shadow fleet vary, with industry officials putting the number at more than 400 to over 600, or about one-fifth of the total global crude oil tanker fleet.

“Our data shows there are now around 650 units,” said Andrea Olivi, head of wet cargo at commodities trader Trafigura, who estimates two-thirds of that number are crude oil tankers.

The number of tankers transporting Iranian crude oil and products – excluding the state-owned fleet – has risen to over 300 this month from 70 in November 2020, said Claire Jungman, chief of staff at the United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) agency tracks Iran-related tanker traffic via satellite data.

Iran’s oil minister said this month that the country’s oil exports had hit the highest level since US sanctions were reimposed in 2018, with 83 million more barrels exported last year compared to the previous year.

Meanwhile, economic penalties imposed on Moscow by Washington and other western capitals over the Ukraine conflict have left dozens more ships engaged in shadow trading, industry participants said.

Some warned that the size of the shadow fleet is becoming increasingly difficult to estimate given the complexities of compliance with sanctions on Russian oil, which is banned in many western ports and subject to a price cap by the G7 countries.

Reuters has not been able to independently verify the Shadow Fleet’s size and growth figures.

The US Treasury Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on ships transporting sanctioned oil. A State Department spokesman said the US is working to uncover circumvention of sanctions in the shipping sector to improve shipping safety and minimize the risk of environmental hazards.


Among the eight incidents identified over the past year was the Linda I A tanker carrying Russian oil was detained in the southern Spanish port of Algeciras in November, according to Reuters analysis.

The Spanish Merchant Fleet Authority confirmed the incident and the cargo, telling Reuters the vessel was authorized to pick up spare parts outside port limits but was drifting towards anchored ships due to navigation system malfunctions.

“The ship was arrested because it had endangered ships anchored nearby and had a number of deficiencies,” said the agency, which is part of the Department of Transport.

The Linda I also violated UN pollution regulations by not having an exhaust gas cleaning system or scrubber while using high-sulphur marine fuel, said the merchant fleet, which fined the ship 80,000 euros ($85,800) and kept it from March 2 to 2 November held December 27 while its bugs were fixed.

The Lindas I The owner, Spastic Oceanway, is listed in the Equasis public shipping database as the manager of Chanocean Management. When a Reuters reporter visited the building, there was no indication of either company at Chanocean’s downtown Hong Kong headquarters.

In East China it is Arzoyi tank — which UANI analysis says was transporting Iranian oil — ran aground while being unloaded at Qingdao Haiye Mercuria Terminal on March 23 last year, causing a small oil spill in port waters, according to data from Lloyd’s List Intelligence.

Three days later, the potion Transporting Venezuelan crude oil from the country’s Jose port was involved in a collision with another tanker off the Cuban port of Cienfuegos, although the cause was not clear, according to the Reuters analysis.

Most Venezuelan oil exports are subject to US sanctions.

The Arzoyis The owner, listed as Panama-based owner Vitava Shipping, could not be reached for comment while contact information is not listed for the petition.

Chinese and Cuban maritime authorities did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The potential dangers posed by the Shadow Fleet became apparent in 2021 when said Israel A tanker carrying Iranian oil spilled its cargo in the eastern Mediterranean, causing ecological damage to a stretch of coast.


According to data provider VesselsValue, around 774 out of 2,296 tankers in the entire global crude fleet are 15 years old or older.

While it is not known how many of these older ships are part of the Shadow Fleet, the strict screening policies of oil companies and commodity traders mean that they typically use tankers less than 15 years old.

Some industry participants said ship-to-ship transfers (STS) of oil and other fuel cargoes using shadow tankers at various locations at sea, outside of port authority oversight, posed significant safety and environmental risks.

2019 two tankers catched fire in the Black Sea region transferring fuel at sea, killing at least 10 crew members after a ship was banned from a port under US sanctions.

“We’re seeing older ships with unknown technical management companies doing STS in the middle of the Atlantic,” said Olivi of Trafigura.

“The risk of a major pollution event is very high.”

($1 = 0.9321 euros)

(Additional reporting by Emma Pinedo and David Latona in Madrid, Sergio Goncalves in Lisbon, Marianna Parraga in Houston, Farah Master in Hong Kong, Timothy Gardner in Washington, Parisa Hafezi in Dubai and the Beijing office; Editing by Veronica Brown and Pravin Char)

(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2023.

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