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Sovcomflot ship bridge

The logo of Russian state shipping company Sovcomflot is seen on the multifunctional icebreaking standby vessel "Yevgeny Primakov" moored in central St. Petersburg, Russia February 3, 2018. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov/File Photo

Russian Oil Producers Snap Up Sovcomflot Tankers Shunned By Rest of the World

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May 20, 2022

By Debjit Chakraborty, Julian Lee and Serene Cheong (Bloomberg) —

Russian oil producers are starting to book up an increasing number of tankers owned by the nation’s state tanker company, boosting demand for a fleet that fell from international favor after the invasion of Ukraine

Rosneft PJSC and Gazprom Neft PJSC, two state-run oil producers, both booked large numbers of tankers owned by Sovcomflot PJSC over the past few weeks to collect and deliver crude from across Russia to buyers in Asia.  

Sovcomflot, itself state run, owns the world’s largest fleet of mid-sized oil tankers, but a big chunk of them became under-employed since the war after some international insurers stopped covering the vessels.

If Russia succeeds in using more of the vessels for deliveries, then it would aid Moscow in getting crude to buyers. It is a departure from the norm for the Russian producers to hire ships directly. It costs several thousand dollars a day to run a single oil tanker, even before debt repayments are taken into account.

Sovcomflot declined to comment.

Rosneft, Gazprom Neft

Rosneft, the country’s largest oil producer, is increasingly sending the nation’s flagship Urals grade on Sovcomflot vessels to destinations including India’s west coast, where Nayara Energy Ltd. and Reliance Industries Ltd. are among companies that operate oil refineries, said people with knowledge of the matter. 

Likewise, Gazprom Neft also booked several oil tankers owned by Sovcomflot to load Eastern Siberia Pacific Ocean, or ESPO, crude in May, according to shipbrokers.

If the trend continues, it could boost demand for a Sovcomflot fleet that became less active after the invasion of Ukraine. It would mirror similar moves that Iran undertook in the face of sanctions with the deployment of state-run vessels for deliveries.

Sovcomflot’s fleet could also get busier after the company sold 14 tankers to pay down debt. It’s not yet clear which vessels were sold or what the buyer plans to do with them.

Of Sovcomflot’s 66 oil tankers that were previously engaged in carrying cargoes to different markets, half were either anchored, drifting, or slow-steaming in various places around the world with no cargo on board. 

The tracking data, collated before the sale of vessels, don’t cover Sovcomflot tankers that shuttle back and forth between Russian ports, or the company’s fleet of non-oil carriers. 

All Change

At least some of the India-bound cargoes supplied by Rosneft were previously meant for other customers, according to the people familiar with the consignments. The shipments were diverted to the South Asian nation after other buyers began to shun Russian imports due to the war. 

Nine Sovcomflot vessels delivered, or are in the process of delivering, crude to India from western Russia since the invasion of Ukraine. There were none last year.

The India-and-back route, a voyage of at least 9,000 miles each way, is about three and a half times as long as the most common trip the ships previously made.

Some buyers refused to accept Sovcomflot tankers after the company’s addition to the UK’s list of sanctioned entities and the fleet still needs more cargoes. The UK’s move prompted international insurers to distance themselves from the shipowner. That eventually contributed to a plunge in flows of Sokol crude, which heavily relies on the Sovcomflot fleet. 

Several of the company’s vessels that have been idling have done so close to Russian export terminals, likely waiting for their next cargo.

From the eastern port of Kozmino, which loads ESPO crude, Sovcomflot’s tanker Sakhalin Island is currently headed to Longkou in China after picking up its shipment around May 14, ship-tracking data compiled by Bloomberg show. 

There are at least three other Sovcomflot’s vessels booked to ship cargoes by suppliers, mostly Gazprom Neft, and another group known as “small suppliers” who’ve also hired vessels, according to shipbrokers. The list of tankers may change closer to loading date as the charters aren’t finalized yet. 

Some new names are also appearing on the list of charters, including a company called Bellatrix. The company has hired five Aframax tankers to load Urals crude from Baltic port of Primorsk this month, according to port agent reports. Four are on Sovcomflot vessels. 

Most of Sovcomflot’s fleet comprises smaller vessels, including Aframaxes and Suezmaxes that are well suited to the country’s ports but less than ideal for long-distance shipments from the nation’s western export terminals to Asia. 

Moscow’s priority, however, is on maintaining oil flows, a key source of revenue for Vladimir Putin’s regime. That’s occupying the fleet and pressing it into use on longer journeys.

–With assistance from Sharon Cho.

© 2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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