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EU Sanctions: Grey areas in policy cannot hide the ‘dark fleet’

More Data Storytelling

Dark tanker at night

Officials have indicated that the detailed ‘FAQ guidance’ that sets out
specific criteria for member states could be as far as two weeks away.

Source: Aleksei Gorodenkov /
Alamy Stock Photo

EU member states have adopted an 11th package of sanctions that confirm plans to ban access to EU ports for ships which engage in ship-to-ship transfers if there is cause to suspect the cargo is of Russian origin.

The latest package has been under discussion since early April and has been mired in political horse trading as states sought to remove contentious details and avoid diplomatic repercussions.

Detailed guidance on exactly how vessels will be targeted and potentially banned from using port facilities in the EU is yet to be revealed, however, leaving ambiguities and grey areas that urgently require clarity. 

So what do we know?

The agreed text promises to ban access to EU ports for ships which engage in ship-to-ship (STS) transfers, if there is cause to suspect the cargo of oil is of Russian origin. 

Risk factors including suspicious gaps in Automatic Identification System (AIS) signals and STS transfers have been detailed in the new sanctions, but the final guidance to coastal states responsible for enforcing the measures is yet to be written.

Member states will be required to actively monitor potentially suspicious shipments originating from Russia although no agreement has yet been reached on the length of potential port bans for ships identified by a coastal state to have violated the new measures.

The exact text of the package, published on June 23, relating to Russian seaborne oil trade is as follows: 

  • Prohibition to access EU ports for vessels that engage in ship-to-ship transfers suspected to be in breach of the Russian oil import ban or G7 Coalition price cap
  • Prohibition to access EU ports for vessels if a vessel does not notify the competent authority at least 48 hours in advance about a ship-to-ship transfer occurring within the Exclusive Economic Zone of a member state or within 12 nautical miles from the baseline of that member state's coast
  • Prohibition to access EU ports for vessels which manipulate or turn off their navigation tracking system when transporting Russian oil subject to the oil import ban or G7 price cap

When will there be clarity on the details and definitions of these new measures?

Following the now well-established process of EU sanctions packages, the final text of the measures was published shortly after the political agreement was reached, but officials have indicated that the detailed “FAQ guidance” that sets out specific criteria for member states could be up to two weeks away.

This will leave a significant gap where member states are simultaneously required to monitor suspicious activity but have no guidance on how to apply the new requirements.

Lloyd’s List understands that the enforcement of the rules will be made at the discretion of individual member states and the text will include a grace period of about 30 days.

What are the legal experts saying?

Sanctions lawyers approached by Lloyd’s List have questioned how the proposed system would work in practice.

For the EU port ban relating to deceptive shipping practices to be workable, the EU will need to provide a definition of “deceptive shipping practices”, which the individual member states can then apply to identify ships to be banned from the EU ports.

How the commission chooses to word the new restrictions is going to prove pivotal in terms of how the industry responds and how member states enforce the attempts to cut off purported circumvention of the existing sanctions.

Dark fleet monitoring

Stakeholders will therefore need fast, accurate and reliable information on vessels that are displaying the characteristics of illicit activity in anticipation of these new rules coming into force.  

Based on years of extensive market experience and analysis of large data sets available through Lloyd’s List Intelligence, our experts have developed a methodology to help identify the ‘dark fleet’ of anonymously owned, elderly tankers that have been drawn to the high-risk but high-rewards stakes of sanctions circumventing oil trades.

The methodology is as follows:

  • Tankers aged 15 years or over, and
  • anonymously owned and/or has a corporate structure designed to obfuscate beneficial ownership discovery, and
  • solely deployed in sanctioned oil trades, and
  • engaged in one or more of the deceptive shipping practices outlined by US State Department guidance issued in May 2020, and
  • is not already sanctioned or government owned* 

The 450+ vessels identified by this methodology is now available as a watchlist on Seasearcher Advanced Risk & Compliance

The AI-driven service that flags all the compliance risks that matter, from high-risk vessel port callings, AIS gaps and probable STS transfers, offers the complete view of sanctioned and illicit maritime activity, that was previously unattainable.  

* The methodology does not include tankers tracked to government-controlled shipping entities such as Russia’s Sovcomflot, or Iran’s National Iranian Tanker Co, and those already sanctioned