The number of oil tankers that have switched to sailing under the flag of Gabon saw a fivefold surge in January versus the monthly average recorded last year, according to data tracked by maritime intelligence firm Windward AI, as cited by Bloomberg.
The data reportedly shows that over 100 “dark-fleet” vessels displaying Gabonese flags were traversing global sea routes at the end of January, up from just 20 recorded in February 2023.
“The Gabon flag registry started to gain popularity as a flag of convenience, offering stakeholders an easy and cheap haven,” the CEO and co-founder of Windward AI, Ami Daniel, told the news agency, stressing that such a move is commonly aimed at avoiding the attention of regulators.
The US, the EU, and their allies have in recent months been trying to ramp up enforcement of the price ceiling imposed on Russian oil exports by targeting companies that help to ship crude at prices above the threshold.
Daniel emphasized that maritime watchdogs have been increasing scrutiny of several states, where fleet registries have frequently been associated with illicit activities of the kind.
“Flags like Liberia, St. Kitts and Nevis and the like have been heavily targeted by regulators – making them less attractive to bad actors,” the expert said.
In the fourth quarter of last year, Panama, Liberia and Russia were the top three flag-states for dark-fleet vessels, according to a report by Windward AI, which also uncovered that about 50 of the vessels that were flying the Gabonese flag in January had switched from the flags of Liberia and Panama and were owned by companies based in Russia.
The phenomenon of a dark fleet – meaning vessels under nontransparent ownership used for disabling tracking systems – emerged in the wake of the wide-ranging sanctions imposed on major oil exporting nations Venezuela and Iran. The use of such fleets has expanded significantly following Western attempts to cut Russia off from the global energy market due to Ukraine-related sanctions.
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