The International Maritime Organization has adopted a resolution that calls upon flag states to “adhere to measures which lawfully prohibit or regulate” ship-to-ship operations.
The aim is to target illicit shipping practices among the “dark fleet”, which has grown considerably in size since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
There has been considerable international concern at the safety of a significant (500-plus vessels), elderly fleet that have been taking up a growing proportion of tanker trades. Because of technical issues and occasionally in order to blur the actual source of the oil/refined product, ship-to-ship (STS) trades have become a growing feature of global oil and refined product movements.
The IMO regulation also calls for ships to update their operation plans for STS transfers, especially if engaged in a mid-ocean transfer with another vessel.
The resolution also recommended that port states, when they become aware of any ships intentionally taking measures to avoid detection, such as switching off their tracking responders or concealing their actual identity, “should subject such ships to enhanced inspections.”
It is one year since the EU instituted a tanker import ban. Analysis from Vortexa found that tankers operating in the dark or shadow markets reached a record high in Q2, but had since declined. Russian involvement accounted for 75% of the opaque fleet. Handymax and Aframax sizes together made up more than half the Russian contingent. The two main other shadow fleet countries were, perhaps predictably, Iran and Venezuela.