Ships Flagged in Cameroon Banned by UAE in Shadow Fleet Crackdown

Cameroon registered ships
Shadow tanker registered in Cameroon was caught by Indonesia in an illegal STS operation in July 2023 ( Bakamla)

Published Jan 9, 2024 1:45 PM by The Maritime Executive


The United Arab Emirates quietly joined the efforts to crack down on the growing fleet of so-called shadow tankers operating outside much of the regulatory framework of the shipping industry. Without explanation, they have banned vessels operating under the flag state of the Republic of Cameroon from calling in UAE waters and ports.

The UAE’s Ministry of Energy & Infrastructure released a circular dated January 2, 2024, which surfaced on the Port of Fujairah’s website. It announced an update to the list of flag states whose ships are required to have international classification to enter the UAE. 

“This administration has decided to include the vessels registered under the flag state of Cameroon to the existing list of restricted flag state vessels calling in UAE waters and ports, unless they are classified by a member of the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS) or by the Emirates Classification Society – Tasneef,” according to the circular. It goes on to warn that “maritime companies and ship agents in the UAE are requested not to provide the services to those vessels that are not complying with this circular to avoid legal accountability.”

Cameroon becomes the ninth national flag state listed by the Ministry. Others include similarly notorious havens for the dark fleet and vessels attempting to avoid the classification, safety, and insurance regimes of the shipping industry. Other flags listed by the UAE include Tanzania, the Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Tonga, and Sao Tome and Principe.

Cameroon has received attention as a haven for the shadow fleet as the operations of these vessels grew in response to the bans by the West on Russian oil exports. Historically vessels registered in Cameroon have been linked to other oil smuggling operations notably including Iran and Venezuela. 

Last July, Indonesia for example reported its forces had come upon two tankers illegally anchored during a ship-to-ship oil transfer. One of the vessels was an Iranian tanker that was operating dark, i.e. with its AIS signal turned off, while the other vessel in the transfer was identifying itself as registered in Cameroon. It however was using the identity of a vessel that had been scrapped five years earlier. 

A Suezmax tanker named Liberty flagged in Cameroon went aground in December 2023 near Singapore in the Strait of Malacca. The ship which was 23 years old illustrated the properties of the shadow fleet and a review of records showed it had come from a Russian oil port. 

Data collected by Bloomberg found that of 14 Cameroon-flagged tankers, 11 of them could be traced to Russian oil ports in the past year. 

The Paris MoU, one of the administration agencies for flag states, currently reflects six vessels registered in Cameroon as having received detention notices and are currently banned from the Paris MoU region, with two of the notices issued in September 2023. The Paris MoU lists Cameroon as only one of nine nations on its “Black List” with the highest excess factor and the only country currently ranked as “Very High Risk.”