Greek Officials Pursue Smugglers After Suspect Tanker Flees Rhodes

The entrance to Rhodes' iconic inner harbor (Pixabay)

Published Jan 20, 2022 2:56 PM by The Maritime Executive

Customs authorities in Greece are investigating a shipowner and a fuel trading company after a suspected smuggling vessel fled detention and escaped to Turkey. 

According to Greek customs authorites, the 1,200 dwt tanker Eirini 1 was engaged in smuggling oil out of Libya. They allege that from Nov. 22-24, Eirini 1 headed to the port of Zuwara, Libya and filled her tanks with an illicit cargo of oil, then departed for Rhodes. 

The Eirini's AIS signal disappeared at an anchorage off Malta on November 20 and reappeared under way south of Crete on November 29, according to satellite AIS data from Pole Star. She then headed for Rhodes. According to officials, her master listed the reason for calling at the port as a spare parts stop.

Acting on a confidential tip-off, customs officials inspected the vessel. They found that her cargo tanks were overfilled, and her ballast tanks and bunker tanks were laden with oil as well. The master allegedly presented documents suggesting that the oil cargo had been loaded in an STS transfer with the tanker Anuket Sapphire - but AIS data shows that the Sapphire has been in South America since last March.

Based on the inconsistencies found on board, Greek officials detained Eirini 1 at an anchorage off Rhodes. However, the vessel did not stay put where ordered: according to local media accounts, she weighed anchor and left for Turkey with her AIS off on the night of December 8. A Hellenic Coast Guard vessel attempted to stop her but was not successful. 

The Eirini's AIS reappeared at Antalya, Turkey on January 2. She departed on January 5, disappearing from AIS on and off for days at a time before arriving off Malta on January 15. As of January 20, she remained at an anchorage she has frequented before, one nautical mile beyond the limit of Malta's territorial seas. 

An Interpol request for the arrest of the vessel has been issued, and Greece's intelligence agencies have been notified. Greek investigators have linked the vessel to a fuel trader based in Lasithi, on the easternmost tip of the island of Crete, and suspect that an international fuel smuggling ring is involved. 

The 1991-built Eirini 1 was inspected by port state control at Malta in January 2021, and she was detained for a month while her operator rectified a list of serious safety issues. Inspectors found 28 deficiencies on board, including expired life rafts, faulty alarm systems, a broken oily water separator, serious hull damage and corrosion, and an inoperable compass. The vessel was also missing a major share of the paperwork required of a merchant ship, including a muster list and proper navigational charts, according to her Equasis record.