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Shipping at Russian Ports is Falling, While Some Ships Remain Inbound 

Russian port traffic
Daily TEU volume is down 40% at Russian ports from its peak a month ago (Saint Petersburg gile photo)

Published Mar 9, 2022 4:29 PM by The Maritime Executive

Fears of sanctions, dramatic increases in insurance fees, and the dangers of being caught in the crossfire appear to be taking a dramatic toll on shipping into and out of Russian ports. However, there remain some reports of shipping heading toward Russia primarily focusing on the grain cargoes from the Black Sea ports.

Rumors of the Russian invasion of Ukraine appear to have begun taking a toll on shipping throughout February even before the imposition of the first sanctions and the port bans on Russian ships imposed by the UK and Canada. Data service Project44, which tracks port activity and cargo movement, reports that it saw a 35 percent decrease in the number of vessels within 50 nautical miles of Russian ports between February 1 and March 2. 

Windward analyzed Russian port calls over the past week and reported that the decline appears to be gaining momentum even before any official restrictions have been put in place. The maritime AI intelligence company said in a Tweet that it calculated a 40 percent decrease in port traffic in Russia last week versus a year ago. Nonetheless, they reported there was still an average of 120 Russian port calls per day in the past week.

While most of the attention has been focused on the Black Sea ports, which primarily export grains, wheat, and timber as well as petroleum products, indications are that other ports in Russia have also begun to feel the impact of shipping companies canceling calls and bookings. For example, the Russian outlet IAA PortNews highlighted that the shipping companies including Maersk, CMA CGM, and Hapag Lloyd, all of which suspended their service to Russia, collectively account for over half of container traffic at the port of Saint Petersburg. Project44 in its tracking data notes that daily peak TEU volumes declined 40 percent between the beginning of February and March at Russian ports. 

The imposition of the economic sanctions and port bans, however, are having a more mixed result on outbound shipping. There are reports of some ships turning around while earlier today Windward highlighted that one Russian tanker bounded to the U.S. is currently lingering off the coast of Africa. However, in Denmark, for example, Russian cargo ships arrived at the Port of Assens and Frederikshavn this week. The mayor of Assens told TV2 Fyn, “We only do what we are required to do by law,” explaining that the port had contractual obligations that required it to permit the vessel to dock.

“At the moment, Russian cargoes themselves are not sanctioned, but this could quickly change as discussions at the political level continue,” explains Nick Austin, shipping partner at global law firm Reed Smith discussing the UK’s efforts at blocking Russian ships. “Under the current rules, a ship is not Russian just because it has Russian crewmembers or a Russian captain, For the rules to bite, there has to be a stronger link between Russia and the ownership and operation of the vessel itself,” he explains while noting that significant numbers of Russian-linked tankers carried crude oil and LNG to UK ports, and will have to go elsewhere now.

Despite all the uncertainties, Lloyd’s List Intelligence is reporting that six bulkers are heading to the Russian port of Novorossiysk on the Black Sea. They said that the ships, which are registered in Barbados, Panama, Liberia, Malta, and the Marshall Islands, are tied to Turkish, Greek, and Indian interests and have a capacity of more than 250,000 dwt. 

Shipping services company GAG Group however is cautioning ships inbound to Russia. “For any vessel calling at Novorossiysk with Ukrainian crew on board, berthing without inward clearance formalities is prohibited,” the GAG Hot Port News reported today. “All Ukrainian crew should be delivered ashore by service boat to the Immigration office, and will be transported back to their vessel after their meeting with Immigration.” The Danish Shipping News is quoting ship management company Anglo-Eastern as saying that Ukrainian seafarers are being interrogated while Russian crewmembers are being detained.