EuropeMiddle EastTankers

Iranian ships seen carrying Russian crude out of the Black Sea

Iranian-controlled vessels have been drafted in to ship Russian crude out of the Black Sea in the latest chapter of tanker sanctions-busting.

Researchers from United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), an international non-profit organisation, claim to have identified at least five of Iran’s so-called ghost armada transporting oil from Russia to China and India.

Further analysis of Refinitiv shipping data by anti-corruption group Global Witness shows that ships controlled by Greek, Cypriot and Maltese interests have rapidly increased the amount of Russian oil they have been transporting each month since the war began.

In February, when Putin’s troops invaded Ukraine, companies and vessels linked to the three countries shifted 31m barrels of Russian oil. In May, that figure had jumped to 58m barrels.

At the start of the war, ships linked to these countries carried a little over a third of the oil exports from Russian ports. By May, that figure had jumped to just over half.

Much of the transport is done with ship-to-ship transfers with the waters off the Greek port of Kalamata in the Peloponnese proving to be a hotspot for this activity in recent weeks.

While Europe has moved to ban seaborne imports of Russian oil, a process that will take months to enact, there are no sanctions in place for European firms taking Russian cargoes to onward destinations, most often in Asia.

In related oil sanctions news, Reuters is reporting that Italy’s Eni and Spain’s Repsol could begin shipping Venezuelan oil to Europe as soon as next month, resuming oil-for-debt swaps halted two years ago when Washington stepped up sanctions on Venezuela.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.
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