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Russia Shifts Tankers to New Spot off Morocco to Continue STS Ops

tanker
Russia continues to find new locations for STS operations with the latest off Morocco

Published Jun 4, 2024 6:38 PM by The Maritime Executive

 

Russia is continuing to play a “shell game” moving around its tankers in an effort to avoid sanctions and maintain the vital financial flow. This comes as demand has been falling according to Bloomberg and many of the sanctioned tankers are now sitting idle.

Bloomberg tacked Russian oil shipments and reports a continuing use of smaller Aframax class crude tankers, carrying between 80,000 and 120,000 dwt, to shuttle crude from Russian depots. The practice continues to be for ship-to-ship transfers to deliver large cargos to buyers.

Greece was one of the favored spots for the transfers but a few weeks ago began to put pressure on the practice. They blocked off an area frequently used for the oil transfers for military exercises with reports that this is continuing.  Speaking to reporters today at the Posidonia trade show, Greece’s Minister of Maritime Affairs, Christos Stylianides, highlighted the dangers from sanctioned tankers. He worries about the potential for environmental damage and admitted to Reuters that Greece is taking new steps to protect its coastline.

Continuing the shell game, Bloomberg tracked several Russian tankers to a bay near Nador in eastern Morocco and west of the Gibraltar Strait. AIS signals today, June 4, confirm Bloomberg’s earlier report showing five tankers in the bay. The Rolin, a 308,000 dwt crude oil tanker registered in Vietnam, is anchored there with the Missoni, a 100,000 dwt tanker apparently alongside. The second ship, which is registered in Panama, and came from Russia, is displaying restricted maneuverability on its AIS. The ship also has an alternate name of Serendi, which shows management from China.

Two other tankers, Sea Fidelity (115,341 dwt) registered in the Cook Islands, and Ocean AMZ (112,969 dwt) also registered in the Cook Islands both arrived from Russia and are now “awaiting orders.” These two vessels are managed out of the UAE. The third one in the bay, Almi Globe (157,787 dwt) is registered in Liberia and under Greek management.

Bloomberg notes that the Russian tankers were previously using another location near Ceuta, a Spanish location in North Africa. They report that Spain chased the tankers away and now Bloomberg speculates with the new location also close to a Spanish location, there could be a similar effort to again displace the tankers.

Despite these efforts, Russia’s four-week average crude exports are down according to Bloomberg’s data. They highlight oil exports are at the lowest levels since mid-February. However, in April Bloomberg says exports were about 120,000 barrels a day above target with Russia promising to compensate for the excess shipments. May levels according to Bloomberg were as much as 170,000 barrels below the daily limits.

Russia needs to find locations to continue these transfers as the market for oil appears to be weakening. Bloomberg reports three other Russian tankers loaded at the beginning of May but spent the second half of the month idle while still laden. They also point out of the 40 tankers sanctioned since October 2023 by the United States for price cap violations, only one is currently active.

Earlier in the spring, executives from the Russian tanker company Sovcomflot admitted that the sanctions were impacting the business. Other reports have shown the company shifting tanker identities and moving in and out of the Russian registry and third-tier flags such as Gabon.

All of this comes as discussions continue in Europe on possible steps to increase the controls over shadow fleet tankers. They are also looking to increase enforcement of the price cap.