Shadow Fleet Exposed: Stranger Danger Lurks in Our Seas!

In a recent incident near Asam Island, south of Singapore, the Cameroon-flagged tanker Liberty, linked to an underground network of vessels, got stuck in shallow waters. This network dodges global regulations by concealing their movements and shipping items, particularly oil, from countries facing sanctions. The Liberty, as reported by Bloomberg, had previously manipulated its whereabouts to escape detection via digital ship-tracking systems. Records from vessel-tracking services revealed that while loading oil near Venezuela, the Liberty used deceptive techniques to trick tracking systems, portraying its location as near West Africa. Interestingly, despite relaxed sanctions on Venezuelan oil by the Biden administration following an agreement between President Nicolas Maduro and opposition parties, the Liberty masked its activity in Venezuelan waters.

Identified by Marine Traffic, the Liberty is presently marked as a Cameroonian-flagged oil tanker situated in the "INDO – Singapore Area." It's worth noting the ship's vintage—being constructed in 2000—which sparks concerns about safety, given the potential risks associated with older vessels in the clandestine "shadow fleet." The International Maritime Organization, the UN's maritime regulatory body, has advocated for stringent measures against this covert fleet. Their recent resolution urges port authorities to intensify inspections and tackle practices that involve hiding identity or avoiding detection.

This secretive fleet carries political implications as well. In response to Western sanctions on Russian oil post-Ukraine's invasion, Russian President Vladimir Putin resorted to the "shadow fleet." The fleet's count reportedly surged to over 100 by December 2022. Observers noted sales to undisclosed buyers, followed by these tankers' appearances in Russia. Challenges stemming from this covert network include safety risks and the support it extends to nations viewed as adversaries by the US. One possible solution to mitigate these issues might involve a more measured global approach. As Secretary of State John Quincy Adams astutely stated in 1821, "But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy."

Written by Staff Reports

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