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IMO assembly adopts ‘dark fleet’ resolution to tackle ‘illegal operations’

Flag states urged to request that vessels notify all ship-to-ship transfers and for port states to get tougher on those calling with suspicious vessel-tracking records

The resolution reflected rising concerns from members about false and fraudulent flags, abuse of the IMO numbering scheme and other practices associated with sanctions circumventing ships

The International Maritime Organization assembly today adopted a resolution that recommended how countries could prevent fraudulent and dangerous practices employed by a fleet of “dark” or “shadow” ships engaged in illegal operations.

The resolution provoked a pushback from Iran and Russia, both of whom are subject to Western or US sanctions on their oil and shipping sectors, and use “dark fleet” tankers to transport energy commodities.

Attempts failed to narrow the resolution to define sanctions as those only agreed by the United Nations General Assembly and not those imposed by countries.

The resolution emerged from the IMO’s Legal Committee earlier this year amid rising concern about unsafe practices used by tankers, especially the number of ship-to-ship transfers of oil and petroleum products taking place in international waters outside the scrutiny of port state control.

While ship-to-ship transfers are a common practice, those undertaken for sanctions-circumventing purposes in international waters lacked regulatory oversight and posed environmental risks.

The resolution passed “urged member states and all relevant stakeholders to promote actions to prevent illegal operations in the maritime sector by the ‘dark’ or ‘shadow’ fleet”.

That included for the first time what defined such a vessel.

The criteria was: Carrying out unsafe operations that didn’t adhere to international regulations and international best practice, intentionally avoiding flag state and port state control inspections, not maintaining adequate liability insurance, avoiding commercial screenings or inspections, not operating under a transparent corporate governance policy that assures welfare and safety of crew and environment, and intentionally taking measures to avoid ship detection, such as switching off vessel-tracking systems, or concealing identity.

While the recommendations were not binding, they outlined a series of best practices related to safety and environmentally related conventions.

That included vessels reporting all ship-to-ship transfers to flag states and enhanced inspections at ports for suspicious ships known to have switched off their vessel-tracking.

Both governments and marine service providers including insurers and shipowners were urged to hold workshops to raise awareness about the “dark fleet”, best practices and due diligence.

The legal committee is investigating false and fraudulent flag registries, abuse of the IMO numbering scheme and fake recognised organisations that are connected to dark fleet operations.

The general assembly, which meets every two years concludes its 10-day gathering in London today.

The IMO also adopted another resolution that condemned Russia’s interference with navigation in the Black Sea, the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait and illegal seizure of maritime and port infrastructure in occupied Ukrainian territories.

The wide-ranging resolution outlined the impact of Russia’s occupation on Crimea since 2014 and Ukraine since 2022 had on global maritime supply chains and shipping.


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