A new investigation has uncovered a widespread practice of illegal transportation of Russian oil, according to Le Monde.
The investigation has revealed an underground practice of transporting hydrocarbons in old and covert tankers in open seas. This shipping method has become prevalent in the aftermath of the European embargo and G7 elections.
Le Monde reports that most of the ports in the eastern part of the Baltic Sea do not accept large deep-sea vessels. However, a strategic workaround is to transfer cargo from these ships to larger ships off the coast of Greece or Spain.
Illegal Russian oil transfer at Kalamata port
One key port implicated in this illicit trade is Kalamata. It has emerged as a crucial maritime hub, serving as a stopover for ships departing from Russian ports in the Black and Baltic Seas on their way to Asia.
Maritime expert Matthew Wright called the use of Greek shipping companies an essential advantage of such an operation. According to Wright, this makes it very difficult to trace the real owners of shell companies involved in such activity.
The investigation further points out that this is a part of the shipping world that intertwines with offshore financial structures. In such activities, tracking becomes even more challenging than monitoring tankers.
As Wright stated, “The stakes in Russia’s oil trade are so high that many interests and capable individuals can be drawn into participation.”
The “ghost fleet” represents ten to twenty percent of the total cargo capacity of the Russian naval fleet. It involves the use of old and secretive tankers conducting ship-to-ship transfers in open seas.
Controversial sanctions and Russian oil
The newspaper points out the ineffectiveness of the sanctions in the absence of an appropriate geopolitical context.
It then recalls that the last diplomatic success achieved through sanctions was the resumption of negotiations on Iran’s nuclear weapons. The newspaper emphasizes that diplomatic discipline cannot be effective unless it enjoys strong international support.
In this light, the same is true today of Russia’s economic and industrial containment, which is compromised by too many detours.
The situation highlights inefficiency in both directions since Russia still manages to acquire key electronic components for the arms industry.
Here, sanctions clash with politics, as the restriction would involve raising the tone against third-party countries. The West hopes to keep countries such as Kazakhstan out of Russia’s orbit.
Earlier, the European Union (EU) introduced a $60-per-barrel price cap on Russian oil. The decision was aimed at punishing Moscow for the invasion of Ukraine and limiting potential profits.
Previous scams by Russian tankers
This is not the first report about the machinations of Russian tankers. In 2022, the non-governmental organization Global Fishing Watch discovered that a Russian tanker in the Mediterranean was engaged in spoofing, namely the substitution of data pertaining to its location.
According to the organization’s experts, the tanker’s crew twice issued incorrect coordinates for the Maritime Automatic Identification System (AIS). This instance of fraud was detected thanks to satellite images.