Oil tanker drifts in Indian Ocean latest reminder of dangers of ghost fleet

Oil tanker drifts in Indian Ocean latest reminder of dangers of ghost fleet


A 26-year-old oil tanker adrift in the Indian Ocean is attracting the attention of industry observers and maritime safety officials, the latest stark reminder of the human and environmental risks posed by a ghost fleet carrying Russian crude across the world.

According to satellite tracking data, the Turba – a ship known to have transported Russian oil – is approximately 300 kilometers west of Aceh in Indonesia and currently reporting that it is “not under command” , a status that means it cannot maneuver alone and therefore keep clear of other vehicles, usually due to mechanical or related failures.

The tanker, built in 1997 and sailing well past the age at which most are scrapped, is near Indonesia’s maritime borders, but not in it, according to the country’s naval service department.

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Many Black Fleet tankers carry oil from Russia – and sometimes Iran – to China, passing through the Strait of Malacca, the world’s busiest maritime chokepoint. The Mediterranean waters around Greece, where the Turba appears to have begun its journey, are a common starting point, given the frequency of oil transfers off these coasts, often to disguise origin.

The risk posed by these ships, essential to efforts to keep Russian and Iranian crude flowing, is not theoretical. In May, another 26-year-old tanker, the Pablo, exploded in the South China Sea.

Just like the Pablo, the Turba has a poor inspection record and a mysterious owner. It flies the flag of Cameroon, a country blacklisted by an international organization promoting maritime transport security. Old ships can pose a serious environmental hazard because their rusting hulls are prone to leaks, which can lead to their own fuel or cargo being released into the sea.

However, last year, sanctions against Russia led to renewed interest in purchasing and operating ships that are past their prime. These purchases are typically made by entities that do not wish to be identified because they aim to transport oil from sensitive regimes, a task that larger, more reputable owners are no longer willing to perform.

–With help from Andrew Janes and Julian Lee.

Copyright 2023Bloomberg.

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With a penchant for words, Eleon Smith began writing at an early age. As editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper, he honed his skills telling impactful stories. Smith went on to study journalism at Columbia University, where he graduated top of his class. After interning at the New York Times, Smith landed a role as a news writer. Over the past decade, he has covered major events like presidential elections and natural disasters. His ability to craft compelling narratives that capture the human experience has earned him acclaim. Though writing is his passion, Eleon also enjoys hiking, cooking and reading historical fiction in his free time. With an eye for detail and knack for storytelling, he continues making his mark at the forefront of journalism.
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