- A Russian oil tanker sought to disguise its whereabouts by using sanction-busting techniques.
- Moscow-linked operators have acquired the means to blunt western oil export restrictions.
- The findings were conducted by non-governmental organization Global Fishing Watch.
GFW, which has monitored covert shipping as part of its work to safeguard fisheries, uncovered how the Kapitan Schemilkin, a 138m-long refined-fuel tanker, made two trips using concealing techniques pioneered by Venezuela and Iran. Both countries are banned from exporting their oil.
The ship first visited an offshore mooring near Malta from May to July, before visiting the Teknecik power plant in Northern Cyprus a month later, according to the findings. In both cases, the tanker broadcast false positions via its Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponder — a safety device which continuously broadcasts a ship’s position. The EU has banned imports of seaborne Russian crude oil cargoes, a measure that will be followed by a ban on importing refined products in February.
The US has also led the G7 group of nations, the EU and Australia, in an attempt to impose a price cap on Russian oil shipments of $60 a barrel. Any tanker carrying Russian oil above this price will lose access to western insurance and other maritime services.
The Kapitan Schemilkin’s spoofing was subtle compared to that of other crews who would, for instance, send a signal of sailing in perfect geometric shapes. Bjorn Bergman, a data analyst working for GFW and SkyTruth, another environmental NGO, said: “We see a whole range of false tracks — and, in general, they are getting more realistic.”
GFW’s work on spoofing techniques was funded by the Defense Innovation Unit within the US Department of Defense as part of a program to understand weaknesses in satellite navigation and monitoring systems. GFW used European Space Agency radar satellite imagery to show that the Kapitan Schemilkin was not in the places where it was claiming to be.
GFW also worked out that when the ship was claiming to be sailing off Greece, its signals were at times being picked up by telecommunications satellites over the wrong part of the Mediterranean. Rechmortrans, the Rostov-based owner of the Kapitan Schemilkin, did not respond to requests for comment.
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