Windward: More Russian Tankers Are Going "Dark"

File image courtesy Sovcomflot

Published Mar 29, 2022 3:18 PM by The Maritime Executive

Israeli maritime AI consultancy Windward reports that more Russian tankers are now operating "dark," reducing the visibility and reputational risk of dealing in Russian petroleum. The finding confirms analysts' expectations that Russian oil exporters would take measures to hide private transactions from scrutiny, given the sanctions on Russian banking and the extensive public outcry over the invasion of Ukraine. 

"Russia has quickly become a pariah state, so they are obscuring some of their activities because a lot of people on both ends of a transit don’t want any association to Russia," explained I.R. Consilium CEO Ian Ralby, speaking to bloomberg. "Almost anything that they are going to be doing is gaining scrutiny and legal concerns because of all the various sanctions."

In an advisory, Windward said that one of the sectors adapting to the new post-invasion reality is Russia's petrochemical and oil-product tanker sector. Windward’s behavioral data suggests that there is has been a significant spike in “dark activity” involving tankers with Russian ties (owned, operated or flagged in Russia). 

By "dark," Windward means that the tankers' AIS signals were not received for an extended period, indicating that their AIS transmitters may have been deliberately turned off. It is one of the simplest and most frequently used tools in the deceptive-practice toolbox, and is a part of everyday routine for Iranian, Venezuelan and North Korean sanctions-busting trades. 

"Dark" events of three hours or longer involving Russian product tankers occurred 33 times last week, more than double last year's average. However, out-in-the-open ship to ship transfers with foreign vessels are also continuing at a normal rate, without change. 

"Investigating if a vessel is engaged in [deceptive shipping practices] related to specific regimes is crucial to protect your business from dealing with sanctioned entities," advised Windward.