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US Navy ship raising Greek ensign

240229-N-ED646-1045 SOUDA BAY, GREECE (Feb. 29, 2024) Quartermaster 1st Class Brandon Gould, assigned to the Harpers Ferry-class dock landing ship USS Carter Hall (LSD 50), hoists up the Greek flag as the ship pulls into Souda Bay, Greece for a scheduled port visit, Feb. 29. Carter Hall is on a scheduled deployment in the U.S. Naval Forces Europe area of operations, employed by the U.S. 6th Fleet to defend U.S., Allied and partner interests. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Moises Sandoval)

Naval Exercises Intensify as Greece Aims to Prevent Russian Oil Transfers

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May 12, 2024

By Alex Longley (Bloomberg) Greece’s Navy extended a series of exercises aimed at preventing tankers from transferring Russian oil just miles off its coastline.

The navy said in a notice that it will be conducting exercises until May 19 in the Laconian Gulf, an expanse of water that’s become well-known in the oil market as a location for Russian oil switching. It had been due to finish on May 9.

A person familiar with the matter said that the exercises are aimed at deterring the ship-to-ship transfers. When Greece first announced the drills last week, tankers quickly evacuated the area, gathering to the south instead. 

The gulf, surrounded by hills that protect ships from the wind, has become a pivotal location for the shadowy transfer of Russian cargoes for onward shipment to buyers in Asia. 

However, because the transfers are happening outside of Greece’s direct territorial waters, Athens hadn’t been able to prevent the switching. It’s not clear what has changed for Greece to take a more-assertive approach now.

The transfers have sparked concerns of a major environmental spill in a picturesque area of European coastline. 

Denmark, which is next to a trade route for Russian oil from the Baltic Sea, also carried out similar, albeit brief, naval activity about a month ago.

When Bloomberg News visited the Laconian Gulf in September last year, about a dozen tankers were involved in cargo switching. 

Some of them were part of a large so-called shadow-fleet of aging tankers whose ownership and insurance status was unclear, raising a question about who would be liable were something to go wrong during the transfer.

By Alex Longley © 2024 Bloomberg L.P.

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