Russia Transshipping Fish Through Norway to Avoid Dutch Shipping Ban

Russian fishing vessel transferring catch
Russian's Belomorye alongside the Norwegian Silver Copenhagen for the transfer in Svalbard (Kystvakten)

Published Jun 21, 2024 2:59 PM by The Maritime Executive


There has been extensive reporting on Russia’s use of transshipping with ship-to-ship transfers of oil in secluded locations, but now comes a report from the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK of ship-to-ship transfers of frozen fish. While pointing out that it is technically not a violation of the EU sanctions against Russia, the action appears to be taking place to avoid a Dutch ban on Russian shipping.

The fish, likely cod from the Barents Sea, have become caught in political issues and geopolitics with the fears sweeping across Europe. The Dutch banned Russian-flagged vessels with the report saying it was due to a fear of spying and espionage. They also cite Russia’s military doctrine pronounced after the 2022 invasion of Ukraine that would permit the use of civilian vessels by the military.

The Russian company Norebo has the highest fishing quotas for cod in the Barents Sea NRK reports but is facing problems with the export and delivery of its catch. The reports are that its vessels are being blocked from the port of Eemshaven in the Netherlands. The company had been exporting to the Netherlands with the Dutch being the largest market for its catch. NRK says over 130,000 tonnes of Russian seafood was landed in the Netherlands in 2023.

The fishing vessel Belomorye had been at sea for more than 16 days without landing its catch and was unable to proceed as it would normally have to Eemshaven. Instead, NRK reports the vessel was sighted in a deserted fjord on Svalbard last month.

The Norwegian Coast Guard was monitoring the activity and confirmed that it inspected the vessel for any potential violations in May. The Belomorye was seen in a photo released by Kystvakten (the Norwegian Coast Guard’s account) alongside the Norwegian freeze ship Silver Copenhagen.

According to the report, 2,000 tonnes of frozen fish were transferred ship-to-ship from the Russian vessel to the Norwegians. The vessel is operated by a Norwegian company Silver Sea which reports it has a 20-year relationship with Norebo. They contend that everything was being done legally. They received the catch and transferred it to the customers in the Netherlands.

Officials confirmed that fish are not part of the EU sanctions. Dutch authorities also confirmed their position that the fish were a legal import and had no problems landing it from the Norwegian ship after a delay of several weeks. 

Russia is reported to have increased its fish exports in 2023 by 12 percent. Total exports were 2.2 million tons.