A 26-year-old oil tanker adrift in the Indian Ocean is drawing the attention of industry watchers and maritime safety officials, the latest stark reminder of the human and environmental risks posed by a shadow fleet hauling Russian crude around the world.
(Bloomberg) — A 26-year-old oil tanker adrift in the Indian Ocean is drawing the attention of industry watchers and maritime safety officials, the latest stark reminder of the human and environmental risks posed by a shadow fleet hauling Russian crude around the world.
According to satellite tracking data, the Turba — a vessel known to have carried Russian oil — is roughly 200 miles (300 kilometers) west of Aceh in Indonesia and currently signaling that it is “not under command”, a status which means it is unable to maneuver on its own and therefore to keep out of the way of other traffic, usually because of mechanical or related failures.
The tanker, built in 1997 and sailing well past the age at which most are scrapped, is near but not within Indonesia’s maritime borders, according to the country’s naval service department.
Many tankers from the dark fleet transport oil from Russia — and sometimes Iran — to China, sailing through the Straits of Malacca, the world’s busiest maritime chokepoint. The Mediterranean waters around Greece, where the Turba appears to have started its journey, are a common departure point, given the frequency of oil transfers off that coast, often to mask origin.
The risk posed by such vessels, key to efforts to keep Russian and Iranian crude flowing, is not theoretical. In May, another 26-year-old oil tanker, the Pablo, exploded in the South China Sea.
Just like the Pablo, the Turba holds a poor inspections record and mysterious ownership. It is flying the flag of Cameroon, a nation blacklisted by an international organization promoting safe shipping. Old vessels can be a serious environmental hazard as their rusty hulls are prone to leaks, potentially causing its own fuel or its cargo to be released into the sea.
In the past year, however, sanctions on Russia have prompted a surge in interest to buy and operate vessels that are past their prime. These purchases are typically made by entities who do not want to be identified as they’re for the purpose of transporting oil from sensitive regimes, a task that larger and more reputable owners are no longer willing to do.
–With assistance from Andrew Janes and Julian Lee.
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