A Russian oil tanker sought to disguise its whereabouts by using sanction-busting techniques, adding to growing evidence that Moscow-linked operators have acquired the means to blunt western oil export restrictions imposed in retaliation for Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
The findings by non-governmental organisation Global Fishing Watch, which were independently verified by the Financial Times, come as shipping brokers have warned that Russia has amassed a “shadow fleet” of more than 100 tankers to carry crude and circumvent an EU ban on seaborne oil imports and a G7-led initiative to impose a price cap on Russian crude shipped elsewhere. The punitive measures took effect on Monday.
“We have seen Russian tankers carrying out what looks like practice runs [for sanctions] in recent months,” said Samir Madani, co-founder and chief executive of TankerTrackers.com, a service that reports on shipments of crude oil.
GFW, which has monitored covert shipping as part of its work to safeguard fisheries, uncovered how the Kapitan Schemilkin, a 138m-long refined-fuel tanker, made two trips using concealing techniques pioneered by Venezuela and Iran. Both countries are barred from exporting their oil.
The ship first visited an offshore mooring nearing Malta from May to July, before visiting the Teknecik power plant in Northern Cyprus a month later, according to the findings. In both cases, the tanker broadcast false positions via its Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponder — a safety device which continuously broadcasts a ship’s position — showing it was sailing in circles in Greek waters.