Shining A Light On The “Dark Fleet”

10 Feb 2023  

The dark, subterfuge and shadow fleet is not easily defined

The Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 triggered increasingly restrictive sanctions on the importation and transportation of Russian barrels of crude oil and oil products. The established tanker owners have responded to these sanctions in different ways.

Some owners decided to “self-sanction” and immediately stop doing business with Russia. Several of the publicly listed tanker companies took this approach, to avoid the reputational risk of being associated with the regime in the Kremlin. Another group of owners saw an opportunity to improve their bottom-line (Russian business demanded premium rates) and increased their loadings in Russian ports. A third group of owners took a wait-and-see approach, reducing their exposure and evaluating Russian business on a case-by-case basis, always making sure the right paperwork was in place, so as not to run afoul of sanctions.

It is important to remember that, technically, prior to December 5, 2022 (for crude oil) and February 5, 2023 (for petroleum products), exporting oil from Russia was not necessarily illegal. So, where does the so-called “dark fleet” come in? Is this a separate category? What makes a tanker “dark”, who owns these ships and why does this “dark fleet” exist in the first place?

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