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An aerial view of a cargo ship illuminated against the dark night sky, sailing through the vast ocean.

Tankers no longer fit the catch-all definition of ‘dark fleet’, even if they share similarities and meet the established criteria. 

The “dark fleet” moniker first evolved more than three years ago, after tankers were observed switching off their vessel-tracking transponders to avoid detection and obfuscate the origin and destination of US-sanctioned oil they carried. 

The practice, known as “going dark”, soon became synonymous with the rising fleet of tankers deployed in shipping Iranian and Venezuelan oil. But “going dark” was only one of many evasive and deceptive shipping practices noted. 

The fleet of anonymously owned, elderly tankers drawn to the high-risk but high-rewards stakes of sanctions-circumventing oil trades exploits any number of regulatory loopholes.

In this white paper, we unpack the difference between the 450-plus tankers defined as belonging to the dark fleet.

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