Nearly a third – 14 out of 43 – of the oil tankers owned by COSCO Shipping Tanker (Dalian) have shut off their transponders since the US imposed sanctions on the company on September 25th on the grounds that, the US said, the company was shipping Iranian crude.
Between September 30th and October 7th, 14 COSCO Dalian ships, six of which carry some oil, stopped sending location data from their AIS, reported Reuters, citing ship tracking data on Refinitiv Eikon.
Bruno Vickers, senior director for Asia at political risk group GPW in Singapore, told Reuters that “it is becoming a cat-and-mouse game, with the US ratcheting up the sanctions while the Iranians (and their Chinese or other buyers) find novel ways to circumvent these” including frequent ownership changes, complex corporate structures and shutting off the AIS transponders. He added that “turning off transponders is a tried and tested tactic that the Iranians have used before, creating a fleet of ghost ships that cannot be tracked. It’s not ideal for ship safety and undoubtedly there will be increased US surveillance of suspect cargoes”.
COSCO Dalian and its subsidiaries own 43 oil tankers, including 26 VLCCs. Nine of the 14 ships offline are VLCCs. An additional six COSCO Dalian ships are idled. Three of the ships, including a VLCC, are floating off China, with two ships off Brazil and one near Qatar.
The destinations for the remaining COSCO Dalian ships appeared mostly to be ports in China and Asia.
The 26 COSCO Dalian VLCCs represent 3.3% of the global VLCC fleet of 792 ships recorded by BIMCO,
COSCO Shipping Energy owns 137 oil tankers, five liquefied petroleum gas tankers and six liquefied natural gas carriers , according to a June filing, said Reuters.