Denmark leaves position unclear on inspecting sanctions-busting Russian tankers
Foreign ships that do not call at Danish ports could not be boarded or inspected, unless they were deemed to be in breach of ‘innocent passage’, says the country’s foreign affairs ministry
The EU and US governments are reportedly in talks with Denmark to inspect and possibly block tankers without known insurance. Whether that would include those that dropped anchor at the Skagen anchorage was not spelled out
THE Danish government has said it would inspect tankers carrying Russian oil that “are not in innocent passage” only upon receival of specific information that the ship might be breaching international maritime regulations on safety or insurance.
But the country failed to make it clear whether the dozens of sanctions-circumventing tankers seen calling at its anchorages without known P&I cover over the past year would qualify for checks.
A statement attributed to the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to reports in the Financial Times last week that EU and US officials were asking the country’s maritime authority to effectively ‘stop and search’ tankers suspected of circumventing sanctions on Russia’s oil and shipping sector.
While not disputing the report’s accuracy, the carefully worded statement yielded some insight into the circumstances under which the Danish Maritime Authority would inspect tankers.
Tankers laden with Russia oil transit through the Danish strait from Baltic Sea ports. Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, they had the right of innocent passage through the Danish straits and outer territorial waters, the statement said.
For foreign ships that did not call at Danish ports, the authority could not board them, conduct inspections, and possibly issue orders, unless they were deemed not to be in “innocent passage”, according to the statement.
The government defined innocent passage as vessels “passing through Danish waters without unnecessary delay and duly expeditiously”.
“For ships not in innocent passage but not in a Danish port, the [Danish maritime authority] will generally only board if the authority receives specific information that the safety or working conditions of the seafarers are not in compliance with international regulations including obligatory insurance requirements,” the statement said.
“This does not occur frequently and requires knowledge of the specific conditions on board, as well as the practical feasibility of transfer to the ship.”
The statement failed to clarify from where “specific information” could be received, and whether vessels that called at its anchorages without known insurance would fit the criteria for “non innocent passage”.
Lloyd’s List asked for further details but there was no response by the time of publication.
Some 57 tankers over 20,000 dwt that had called at the ports of Primorsk, Ust-Luga, St Petersburg or Vysotsk were tracked sailing through Danish waters between October 1 and November 10 without known P&I insurance, according to Lloyd’s List Intelligence analysis.
Ten of these elderly tankers, defined as being part of the dark fleet*, dropped anchor in Danish waters in Skagen Harbour over October, according to an investigation by Danish media Danwatch, published last week. None were inspected. Dark fleet tankers called regularly at the anchorage over the past year and none were inspected, the report said.
Danwatch cited the case of Cook Islands-flagged aframax Vela Rain (IMO: 9331141) which spent 30 hours at Skagen anchorage fully laden around October 20 and 21 after calling at Ust-Luga and Primorsk earlier that month.
Vela Rain, a 17-year-old vessel managed by Dubai-based Radiating World Shipping Services did not have any insurance with the 12 clubs that are members of the International Group of P&I Clubs that cover 95% of the global tanker fleet.
Insurance with these clubs is widely used as a proxy for compliance with the Group of Seven industrialised nations price cap on seaborne Russian oil exports, a cap which has been in place for nearly a year.
Talks to use Denmark to block Russia oil exports by inspecting and potentially detaining vessels focused on those without Western insurance and thus circumventing the price cap.
About a third of Russia’s crude is shipped from Baltic ports, as well as substantial volumes of diesel and gasoil cargoes.
* Lloyd’s List defines a tanker as part of the dark fleet if it is aged 15 years or over, anonymously owned and/or has a corporate structure designed to obfuscate beneficial ownership discovery, solely deployed in sanctioned oil trades, and engaged in one or more of the deceptive shipping practices outlined by US State Department guidance issued in May 2020. The figures exclude tankers tracked to government-controlled shipping entities such as Russia’s Sovcomflot, or Iran’s National Iranian Tanker Co, and those already sanctioned. Download our explainer on the different risk profiles of the dark fleet here
Lloyd’s List Intelligence Seasearcher subscribers can add the Lloyd’s List dark fleet to their watchlists here