Russian Tankers Turning Off Tracking to Evade Sanctions: Reports

oil tanker AbQaiq
oil tanker AbQaiq
A file photo of the commercial oil tanker AbQaiq in ballast. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Kevin H. Tierney.

Russian tankers carrying chemicals and oil products have been concealing their movements since the invasion of Ukraine, which maritime experts say could be in attempt to evade sanctions imposed after the invasion.

Various reports, including by business news outlet Bloomberg, say that Russian oil tankers have averaged 12 “dark activities” a week since the invasion of Ukraine, which is more than double the usual rate, according to predictive intelligence company Windward AI.

“Going dark” is a term used to describe when vessels turn off their tracking systems. By turning off its location data, a ship can obscure its final destination or hide other details about a vessel’s movements.

Prior to being sanctioned by the U.S. and other countries, Russia’s oil tankers only went dark an average of five times per week, according to Windward, which is an Israeli consultancy that specializes in maritime risk using artificial intelligence and satellite imagery. However, the data show that prior to the sanctions, crude oil tankers only went dark an average of once per week, the Windward has said.

But that changed between March 19 and 25, when Russian vessels carrying crude oil went dark 20 times that week, Windward data show.

The dark operations occurred mainly in or around Russia’s exclusive economic zone, according to Windward, which performed the research on Bloomberg’s behalf. The ships engaging in dark activity include vessels connected to big corporations and multinational shipping firms, as well as small businesses, Bloomberg report in late March.

Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. The conflict has led to millions Ukraine civilians fleeing the country, creating a humanitarian crisis in the region.

In early March, most global shipping firms, including Switzerland-based MSC, Denmark-headquartered Maersk and France’s CMA CGM halted cargo bookings to and from Russia due the invasion and ongoing conflict.