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How Greek Companies and Ghost Ships Are Helping Russia

How Greek Companies and Ghost Ships Are Helping Russia
Elisabeth Braw November 23, 2022

The Liberian-flagged oil tanker Ice Energy (L) transfers crude oil from the Russian-flagged oil tanker Lana (R), off the shore of Karystos, on the Greek island of Evia, on May 29. ANGELOS TZORTZINIS/AFP via Getty Images
Vessels from Greece and phantom fleets of unregistered ships have allowed Moscow to evade sanctions and export its oil—but it’s about to get more difficult.

The United States banned Russian crude oil imports months ago, and Russian ships are banned from U.S., British, and EU ports. On Dec. 5, the European Union’s sanctions on Russian crude come into effect. But Greek and other European shipping companies are currently—and legally—helping Russian exporters get their oil to the desired destination.

What’s more, a growing ghost fleet of ships that officially don’t exist and cannot, as a result, be traced or investigated is transporting sanctioned Russian goods around the world, just as it was already transporting banned Iranian, Venezuelan, and North Korean commodities. The ghost fleet is likely to grow as the EU’s oil sanctions kick in. That seriously undermines the sanctions—and creates risks on the high seas.

In May, Lloyd’s List Intelligence, which monitors global shipping, began noticing an odd pattern at the Russian ports of Ust-Luga, Primorsk, Novorossiysk, and St. Petersburg. Of the 204 large tankers departing the ports between the 1st and the 26th of that month, 58 belonged to Sovcomflot, the Russian shipping giant. But many more of the oil tankers—79—were Greek owned. “A vast increase in voyages to India, Turkey and China indicate where the cargo, normally bound for North America and Western Europe, is now going,” Lloyd’s noted in a subsequent report.