This blog post will quickly get you up to speed on how Russia’s war has influenced which types of deceptive shipping practices (DSPs) are happening in specific regions. The post is based on our recent report, which uses Windward’s proprietary insights to focus on DSPs that are related to Russia, broken down by region.
South Atlantic ship-to-ship (STS) – and more
There was a consistent increase in dark activity (intentionally disabling automatic identification systems) from August 2022 to the one-year anniversary of the war. January 2023 was the first month to mark a decrease (46%) in dark activities by crude oil tankers.
While there was a general decrease in the number of dark activities in the South Atlantic, Windward identified the significantly increased presence of a specific flag involved in this activity. Dark activities by Cameroon-flagged tankers in the South Atlantic increased from seven events in 2021, to a staggering 315 events in 2022. That is an increase of 4,400%!
Ship-to-ship (STS) operations by crude tankers in the South Atlantic also decreased during the last couple of months leading up to the one-year anniversary of the war, but overall STS operations by crude vessels in the area have been constantly increasing since the beginning of the war.
Prior to the invasion, there were 4.8 crude oil STS meetings (monthly average). This increased to 6.6 post-invasion – a 37.5% increase.
The number of dark activities by crude oil tankers in the Black Sea also increased, from a monthly average of 11.7 pre-war, to 15 post-invasion. Concurrently, the monthly average of crude oil STS operations in the Black Sea decreased by 29% – this may indicate a move to semi-dark meetings (meetings where only one of the vessels is not transmitting) – a behavior much more difficult to detect and monitor with non-AI solutions.
What do we know about the vessels engaged in these STS engagements?
- Top three flags: Malta, Liberia, and Panama (all flags of convenience, unsurprisingly)
- Pre-invasion, there were 0 STS operations in the Black Sea by Vietnam-flagged tankers. From August 2022 until the one-year anniversary, we found more than 25 STS operations by these tankers in the Black Sea
- Leading up to the February 5, 2023 go-live date for the oil products price cap, Windward uncovered a significant increase of dark activities by oil products tankers – January 2023 marked a 50% increase
A new hub for smuggling Russian oil: Alboran Sea
We identified a new hub for tanker STS engagements in the Alboran Sea, specifically in Ceuta – an autonomous Spanish city on the north coast of Africa. Bordered by Morocco, it lies along the boundary between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The area is also known as a hub for drug trafficking.
We found an increase in the number of STS operations by crude oil tankers since the war began:
When we frame the numbers in the context of sanctions evasions, it’s clear the increase is related to Russia. In December 2021, there was one STS operation between tankers that both called ports in Russia prior to the meeting, compared to eight such meetings in December 2022.
The top four flags of tankers engaged in STS operations in the Alboran Sea are quite similar to those that operate in the Black Sea: Malta, Liberia, Panama, and the Marshall Islands.
When we compare this newly identified area to the South Atlantic (the previous popular hub of STS operations for smuggling Russian oil), we clearly see the similarities. Alboran has become a main hub for Russia-related illicit activity.
Geopolitics and the maritime ecosystem are interdependent and complicated, and maritime risk is ever-evolving – our report highlights just how much things have changed in unforeseen ways during the past year.
It is imperative that we continue to closely monitor and uncover these evolving deceptive shipping practices to promote transparency and maintain the integrity of the global shipping industry.
Windward’s full report goes far beyond the issue of DSPs, analyzing dry cargo and grain smuggling, an evolving trade trend between Iran and Russia, a new hub for smuggling Russian oil, and much more!