Shipping industry seeks to combat dark oil transfers at sea
14 Jul 2021

Top oil shipping companies say they have tightened operational guidelines and deployed technology to prevent accidental breaches of sanctions, as the countries hit by ever tougher restrictions fight back with elaborate strategies to dodge them.

Washington has ramped up shipping-related sanctions over the last two years to make it harder for countries, such as Iran and Venezuela, to export the oil that provides their main source of revenue.

In response, Iran and Venezuela have developed sophisticated methods to bypass sanctions, which are also imposed to a lesser extent by the European Union.

As a result, it is harder for shipping firms to avoid facilitating blacklisted exports unwittingly, potentially laying them open to being cut off from the U.S. financial system or even having assets seized.

One way to evade sanctions is to hide behind the practice of transferring oil from one ship to another at sea, known as a ship-to-ship (STS) transfer.

STS transfers are legitimately used to avoid the need for vessels enter a port area and incur port fees or when vessels are too big to enter a terminal.

Sanctions dodgers can use STS to falsely document the origin of the oil as a country near to where the transfer takes place rather than its true origin.

As both Iran and Venezuela have boosted exports, cargo trackers have detected an increased number of STS transfers in open waters over the last year. They take place off Malaysia’s coast, at locations off Africa and also in the Caribbean, shipping and trading companies say.

Maersk Tankers, which commercially manages the world’s largest fleet of more than 220 product tankers, said the company was contending with the falsification of documentation, making legitimate use of STS transfers harder.

It has deployed new technology to screen vessel movements and ownership structures to detect any suspicious activity that it can investigate further as bigger players are particularly vulnerable.

“Shipowners are navigating an increasingly complex environment. A part of this complexity arises from new and advanced practices to evade sanctions,” Maersk Tankers’ chief commercial officer Eva Birgitte Bisgaard told Reuters.

“Bigger players conduct a larger number of voyages, exposing them to more and a greater variety of fraudulent behaviour,” she said.

By Jonathan Saul and Marianna Parraga, Reuters, 13 July 2021

Read more at Reuters

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