The last few years have seen a significant rise in the number of oil tankers participating in a “shadow” fleet, carrying oil from countries affected by Western sanctions. According to an analysis by Reuters, hundreds of extra ships have joined this opaque parallel trade due to the increasing Iranian oil exports and the restrictions imposed on Russian energy sales over the war in Ukraine.
This parallel trade of oil has brought environmental and geopolitical risks worldwide, with the emergence of several incidents involving these vessels. An oil tanker ran aground off the coast of eastern China, causing fuel to spill into the water. Another vessel collided near Cuba, and a third was seized in Spain after drifting out of control.
The Risks of the Shadow Fleet
The shadow fleet of tankers is a significant risk, with the potential for environmental disasters like oil spills that can harm marine life, disrupt economies, and lead to significant cleanup costs. These vessels are often operated by small, unknown companies with inadequate safety procedures, making them vulnerable to accidents.
Apart from the environmental risks, the shadow fleet’s activities pose geopolitical risks, which can affect international trade, regional stability, and even global security. Iran’s use of the shadow fleet to transport its oil exports has drawn criticism from the United States, which considers it a violation of sanctions.
Moreover, the use of the shadow fleet has increased the difficulty of monitoring oil shipments, making it easier for countries to evade sanctions. This puts a strain on the existing regulatory framework, with insurers and regulators struggling to keep up with the growing number of vessels operating outside of the standard trade channels.
Combating the Shadow Fleet
To combat the risks posed by the shadow fleet, regulators and industry players are working to improve oversight, transparency, and compliance with international standards. This includes better monitoring of ship movements and the implementation of stricter safety protocols.
In addition, shipping companies and insurers are tightening their due diligence processes to ensure that they are not inadvertently supporting illicit activities. Regulators are also calling for stricter enforcement of existing sanctions and the implementation of new measures to tackle the shadow fleet’s activities.
The rise of the shadow fleet of tankers carrying oil from countries affected by Western sanctions is causing environmental and geopolitical risks worldwide. While regulatory bodies and industry players are taking steps to combat the issue, there is still a long way to go to address the problem adequately.
As the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic and geopolitical tensions, the risks associated with the shadow fleet highlight the importance of a collaborative effort to ensure safe and secure international trade. This requires a coordinated approach from governments, industry players, and regulators to mitigate the risks of the shadow fleet and safeguard the environment and global security.