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China Steps Up Inspections On Old Oil Tankers

As the number of old oil tankers shipping Russian oil has soared, Chinese authorities in the Shandong province have increased the safety checks on old vessels arriving at the major oil import port of Qingdao, holding ships more than 20 years old at the port for weeks.

At least two old oil tankers, including one from Russia, spent nearly a month at the port of Qingdao, waiting to be inspected more thoroughly, Bloomberg reported on Friday, quoting sources familiar with the checks and a database of inspections in the Asia Pacific.

Last year, an unusually large number of tankers changed ownership in what analysts and shipping industry officials believe was a push from Russia to continue shipping large volumes of its crude and entities willing to profit from Russian oil trade in a sanctions regime. The ‘dark’ or ‘shadow’ fleet of oil tankers is growing to now include tankers not only shipping sanctioned Iranian and Venezuelan oil, but also increasingly larger volumes of Russian oil and products. 

Ahead of the December 5 EU embargo on imports of Russian crude oil, which was announced months before the implementation, hundreds of vessels—mostly older ones nearing the end of service life and bound for scrap—had changed ownership to companies not associated with the EU or G7, such as firms based in Dubai.  

China’s increased scrutiny of old vessels coincides with the surge of opaque trades and shipping practices after the price cap on Russian oil came into effect.

The number of tankers operating in opaque markets reached a record high in the first quarter of 2023, supported by Russian and Iranian trade, Vortexa said in a report last month.

Vortexa observed 125 tankers that switched from Iran and Venezuela to Russian trade and carried 1.1 million barrels per day (bpd) of Russian crude in March 2023, a record high.

Shipping oil with old tankers without EU/G7 companies’ insurance is a disaster waiting to happen, shipping analysts and brokers say. 

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Just this week, the United States and several other Western countries plus Ukraine called for increased surveillance for cracking down illicit ship-to-ship transfers of oil, which have soared since the embargoes on Russian crude and product exports came into effect.  

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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