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Lauren II Tanker

Photo of Tanker Lauren II, formerly BW Lake, by T.Foxon via Marine Traffic

Oil Tankers Make Rare Mid-Atlantic Switch Of Russian Crude Oil

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June 6, 2022

By Julian Lee (Bloomberg) Shippers of Russian crude are turning to unusual methods to move cargoes displaced from Europe over much longer distances to new customers. The most recent example is a ship-to-ship transfer in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

The Aframax tanker Zhen I discharged its cargo into the (Panama flagged) supertanker Lauren II in waters 300 miles west of the island of Madeira, according to ship-tracking data monitored by Bloomberg. The transfer took place May 26 to 27.

Moving cargoes onto larger vessels is not unusual, but what is far less common is the location where it happened. Most transfers take place in sheltered waters, where the risks of oil spills are greatly reduced. Russian cargoes have been transferred to bigger ships off Skaw in Denmark, in the western Mediterranean off the Spanish North African town of Ceuta, and even in the North Sea off Rotterdam. This is the first transfer seen on the high seas.

The Zhen I has now returned to the Baltic Sea, where it’s due to load its next cargo from Primorsk, Russia, in mid-June, according to a loading program seen by Bloomberg. The Lauren II is drifting in the mid-Atlantic, possibly awaiting the transfer of another cargo. A ship as large as the Lauren II can hold as many as three cargoes of the size typically carried by a vessel like the Zhen I. That makes them a much more economic option for carrying crude over very long distances.

Self-sanctioning of Russian crude by some European refiners is already forcing greater volumes to be moved much longer distances to buyers, particularly in India. As European Union sanctions begin to bite deeper into flows to Europe, we can expect to see more Russian crude being shipped further, with the country seeking new markets for its oil. Mid-ocean cargo transfers may become more common, if buyers and sellers start to try masking the destinations of Russia’s oil exports.

By Julian Lee With assistance from Sherry Su. © 2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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