An increasing number of oil tankers are joining the “shadow” fleet of tankers carrying oil from countries hit by Western sanctions. The rise of this fleet poses a risk of accidents that can cause oil spills and environmental damage.
This opaque parallel trade has expanded due to the rising Iranian oil exports and the restrictions imposed on Russian energy sales over the war in Ukraine.
Risks of oil spills and environmental damage from “shadow” fleet ships
Oil spills from “shadow” fleet ships pose significant environmental risks and can cause long-lasting damage to marine ecosystems. “Shadow” fleet ships are vessels that operate outside standard regulations and often engage in illegal activities, such as fishing or smuggling.
These ships are typically older and less well-maintained than those in the regular fleet, increasing the likelihood of equipment failures and accidents. When a spill occurs, it can contaminate vast areas of water, coat wildlife and habitats in oil, and harm local economies that rely on tourism and fishing.
Withdrawal of services for “shadow” ships poses a danger of oil spills
Leading certification companies and engine manufacturers have withdrawn their services from ships carrying oil from sanctioned Iran, Russia, and Venezuela.
A number of insurers have also withdrawn their services, resulting in less oversight of ships transporting flammable cargoes.
Hundreds of additional ships have joined this shadowy parallel trade in recent years. The fleet size varies, with industry participants estimating it to be anywhere between 400 and 600 ships, or roughly one-fifth of the global crude oil tanker fleet.
According to Trafigura, the shadow fleet has now reached around 650 units.
Devastating effects on marine life
Oil spills can be extremely harmful to marine life, including fish, birds, and mammals. The oil coats their feathers, fur, and scales, making movement and temperature regulation difficult. The oil can also poison them, resulting in long-term health problems and even death.
In addition to the immediate impacts of oil spills, long-term environmental damage can be significant. Oil can persist in the environment for years, slowly degrading and contaminating soil and water. This can lead to chronic health problems for marine life, as well as potential impacts on human health.
Preventing oil spills from “shadow” ships
Since “shadow” fleet ships often operate outside of regulations and engage in illegal activities, it increases the likelihood of accidents and spills. The number of such incidents can vary depending on factors such as the level of enforcement and monitoring in a particular region or the activities of these ships.
Efforts to prevent oil spills and minimize their impact include regulations and monitoring of “shadow” fleet ships, as well as improved spill response strategies and technologies. However, much work remains to be done to ensure that our oceans and the creatures that inhabit them are protected from the risks of oil spills caused by “shadow” fleet ships.
It is important to note that even a single oil spill from a “shadow” fleet ship can cause significant damage to the environment and marine life. Therefore, it is crucial to take steps to prevent and minimize the impact of oil spills from all sources.