By David Goodman and Jack Wittels
(Bloomberg) –Britain has yet to completely remove its reliance on Russian fuel, according to data that contradicts an official report earlier this week that the UK has successfully brought buying to zero.
The Office for National Statistics said Wednesday that the UK imported no fuel from Russia for the first time on record in June. That suggested the government achieved its ambition to phase out all purchases of natural gas and oil in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine.
Data released by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy a day later told a different story. It showed that Russian imports of diesel in the month were still around half the total of a year earlier.
BEIS said imports of diesel from Russia totaled 106 thousand tones in the month, forming 1.8% of total UK imports. The figure was down about 50% from a year earlier. It agreed there were no Russian imports of crude oil.
The discrepancy lies in the way the statistics are collected. The ONS data is based on a country dispatching the shipments, whereas BEIS looks at the country of origin. It shows one of the operational difficulties in ensuring sanctions are followed.
“All of our trade figures have always been produced on a Country of Dispatch basis,” an ONS spokeserson said. “Until recent changes to our collection method, country of origin information was not available for all imports data.”
Earlier this summer, some market participants discussed the idea of Russian fuel being routed through other ports before arriving in the UK.
Since the invasion in February, the UK has brought in more diesel from elsewhere — especially, Belgium, from where arrivals have surged during March to July, according to data from Vortexa Ltd, compiled by Bloomberg. Imports from Belgium hit their highest monthly tally on record in June in data going back to the start of 2016.
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At the same time as Belgium has been sending more diesel-type fuel to the UK, it has also been importing more from Russia. A full UK ban on importing diesel from Russia — even directly — does not come into force until the end of this year. There is also no blanket ban on Russian fuel flows into the European Union right now.
It is “quite conceivable, if not likely, that the UK is still importing Russian diesel molecules, albeit blended in Amsterdam-Rotterdam-Antwerp,” Facts Global Energy, a consultant tracking shipments, said in a note last month.
© 2022 Bloomberg L.P.
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