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Shadow Fleet Derails Shipping Industry’s Efforts to Cut Emissions

The rising number of tankers transporting sanctioned oil and petroleum products under the radar is holding back efforts of the global shipping industry to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

The old tankers carrying sanctioned oil from Russia, Iran, and Venezuela typically use the cheapest fuel available and operators of these vessels have no incentive whatsoever to comply with industry standards, including emission standards, Reuters reports, citing shipping sources and shipping data.

While the shipping industry, which accounts for about 2% of global energy-related CO2 emissions, is looking to reduce emissions by using low-sulfur fuel oil, the dark fleet still burns the cheaper high-sulfur fuel without exhaust gas cleaning systems, the so-called scrubbers. Under International Maritime Organization (IMO) rules, the global shipping fleet can now use high-sulfur fuel oil only if scrubbers are installed on vessels.

The dark fleet, which has grown exponentially since the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the sanctions on Russian oil, is not complying with these international regulations.

“A lot of shadow vessels have no scrubbers but they buy high sulfur fuel oil when they are in Russia,” an industry source told Reuters.

“So, they are breaching the IMO's sulfur limit,” the source added.

Last year, IMO set out in its strategy indicative targets to reduce the total annual GHG emissions from international shipping by at least 20%, striving for 30%, by 2030, compared to 2008 levels. These emissions are targeted to decrease by at least 70%, striving for 80%, by 2040, compared to 2008. IMO also aims to reach net-zero GHG emissions by or around 2050.

The growing shadow fleet not only ignores the industry’s efforts to clean up fuel use, but it’s also causing accidents and collisions and it’s only a matter of time until a major disaster and oil spill happens at sea, analysts and insurance experts say. 


“As long as there are sanctions on countries like Russia and Iran, the shadow fleet looks here to stay,” Justus Heinrich, Global Product Leader Marine Hull at Allianz Commercial, said earlier this month. “Given the age of the vessels in the shadow fleet, safety is a big concern. Often these vessels are at the end of their operational lives and are used in a high-risk business.”

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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  • Mamdouh Salameh on May 29 2024 said:
    While it may or may not be true that the shadow fleet is derailing shipping industry's efforts to cut emissions, it is at least doing something useful by keeping the global economy well supplied with crude oil and petroleum products and also breaking Western sanctions against Russia, Iran and Venezuela.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Global Energy Expert

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