NewsRussian tankers find haven in Gabon amid rising American sanctions

Russian tankers find haven in Gabon amid rising American sanctions

Russian "shadow fleet"
Russian "shadow fleet"
Images source: © TG

4:36 AM EDT, June 12, 2024

Gabon has become a haven for Russian tankers hiding from the "shadow fleet" due to American sanctions. According to "The Wall Street Journal," the number of ships registered in this equatorial country on the west coast of Africa has increased sixfold since the beginning of the war in Ukraine.

The newspaper's website reports that many Russian tankers previously sailed under Liberia's flag, which is popular in the shipping industry. However, as "The Wall Street Journal" notes, American sanctions have also targeted Liberia, especially since the company maintaining the shipping registry there is registered in the USA.

Russian "shadow fleet" in the shadows

Since October 2023, Washington has implemented measures against nearly 40 ships that violate Western countries' price cap on Russian oil, set at $60 per barrel. As part of this campaign, sanctions were imposed on 21 Sovcomflot tankers and, in February 2024, the company itself.

Sovcomflot is the largest Russian shipping company and a global leader in marine hydrocarbon transport, as well as providing support for subsea exploration and oil and gas extraction.

Among the ships re-registered in Gabon are 50 Sovcomflot tankers that previously sailed under Liberia's flag as writes "WSJ," citing sources familiar with the situation. In total, Gabon now has over 100 ships on its registry.

According to Lloyd's List Intelligence, more than 70 ships have unknown owners and are part of a secret tanker fleet used to transship oil affected by sanctions. The Comoros and Cameroon have also been actively used for the same purpose.

Difficult but "profitable" conditions

Overall, shipowners and maritime brokers estimate that about 15 percent of all tankers now sail under a new or false flag (when the ship is not registered in the claimed country).

Working conditions on the tankers that joined the "shadow fleet" are tricky but "profitable." Nigerian mechanic Umar Bello told "WSJ" that he made two voyages on a 24-year-old tanker sailing under the Gabonese flag, transporting oil from Novorossiysk to India.

Sailors bought their medicines, ate canned food, had no internet connection at sea, and did not receive sick pay. According to Bello, crew members were paid one-third of their compensation upfront and the rest at the end of the voyage, all in cash and twice as much as on other ships.

According to Greek maritime officials, ships sailing under the Gabonese flag actively transship Russian oil off the southern coast of Greece. This is usually done to load a more giant tanker for a long voyage or to hide the origin of the oil and petroleum products.

Lack of insurance, breakdowns, accidents

Harry Teochari, a senior consultant at the law firm Norton Rose Fulbright, said many of the shadow fleet vessels do not have adequate insurance and, due to their age, are prone to severe breakdowns that could lead to an environmental disaster.

According to WSJ, since 2022, at least 17 sailors have died in three incidents involving ships sailing under the Comoros flag, including a container ship from Russia that broke in two.

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