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Beware the dark fleet, price cap coalition warns in latest advisory

Price cap coalition urges increased due diligence when dealing with older tankers, anonymously owned or controlled under opaque structures, and/or solely deployed in sanctioned trade, and engaging in deceptive shipping practices

The price cap coalition has released a compliance and enforcement alert, urging the industry to exercise ‘enhanced due diligence’ with vessels that fit the ‘shadow fleet’ description

THE price cap coalition has released an alert urging industry stakeholders to exercise “enhanced due diligence” with vessels that fit the “shadow fleet” description and used to carry Russian oil and products.

“The ‘shadow’ fleet (also referred to as the ‘ghost,’ ‘dark,’ or ‘parallel’ fleet) generally refers to older vessels that are anonymously-owned and/or have opaque corporate structures that are solely deployed in the trade of sanctioned oil or oil products and engage in various deceptive shipping practices,” the alert read.

“There is ample evidence that Russia has utilised these vessels to transport its oil and oil products. Whilst these vessels may be compliant with relevant laws, or not covered by them, these vessels have given Russia an outlet for its oil exports and a means to circumvent sanctions in a more unfettered way, with arguably limited exposure and without clear attribution.”

The alert comes amid a crackdown on price cap breaches that began in October and has since landed over two dozen tankers on the US’ blacklist.

The US slapped sanctions on the first dark fleet* tanker, the Liberia-flagged HS Atlantica (IMO: 9322839) in December. The tanker is owned by UAE-based Hennesea Holdings, the second-largest dark fleet shipowner in Russia oil trades, according to Lloyd’s List Intelligence analysis.



In January, the US sanctioned Hennesea and 17 tankers linked to its operations in the single-largest direct enforcement action taken thus far against sanction-busting tankers.

The coalition announced a tightening of the cap’s reporting requirements in December, while the EU agreed to new rules requiring a notification procedure for sales of old tankers to Russia or Russian-linked firms.

“Industry stakeholders are encouraged to report to relevant competent authorities tanker sales they observe which display evidence to indicate that they could be used as part of the shadow fleet,” the alert read.

“Industry stakeholders should consult the International Maritime Organization (IMO) resolution “A.1192(33) Urging Member States and all relevant stakeholders to promote actions to prevent illegal operations in the maritime sector by the ‘dark fleet’ or ‘shadow fleet’.”

The intensifying regulatory environment and US sanctions appear to be having an impact.

At least a dozen tankers laden with Sokol-grade Russian crude, which trades above the $60 per barrel cap, were observed stranded off Singapore and South Korea.

London-based commodities and data analytics provider Vortexa said there was no buying appetite for oil on the tankers after the US recently blacklisted shipping companies involved in moving Sokol cargoes.

“While the Indian refiners don’t really have to abide by the price cap, Indian banks do not want to deal with any of these shipping companies or counterparties that are not obeying, so they are complying with the oil price cap,” said Vortexa head of APAC analysis Serena Huang.

“That led to some of the Sokol tankers turning away from India and looking for alternative buyers.”

* 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 in 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


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