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Shadow-Fleet Oil Tanker That Crashed Had Void Western Insurance

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April 28, 2024

By Alex Longley and Sanne Wass

(Bloomberg) –A shadow-fleet oil tanker that crashed in Denmark’s vital straits produced a set of insurance documents that weren’t valid, a stark example of how there’s little clarity about who would pay the bill if such a ship had a major disaster.

The Andromeda Star, an 820-foot vessel capable of transporting about 730,000 barrels of oil, was involved in a collision with a small Bulgarian freighter called the Peace at the start of March. The tanker had previously collected oil from Russia — whose exports are sanctioned — and did so again after it had undergone repairs in Denmark. 

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The Danish Maritime Authority said in a Freedom of Information request and subsequent queries that the ship provided some of its insurance documentation from Gard AS, the world’s largest provider of cover against spills and collisions. But a spokesperson for Gard said it wasn’t the insurer at the time of the collision and doesn’t cover it now either. 

An inspection showed the ship carried insurance from industry leader Gard.
An inspection showed the ship carried insurance from industry leader Gard.

The vessel forms part of a sprawling fleet of tankers that Russia assembled to help keep its oil flowing after the country’s exports were sanctioned because of its invasion of Ukraine. Those ships often don’t conform to industry standards and can be decades old. As a result, the European Union is currently discussing restrictions on such vessels to mitigate the risk of environmental disaster. 

The provision of Protection and Indemnity insurance by Gard would normally encompass protection against oil spills and other risks like collisions.

But in addition to that, the crew also presented Danish inspectors with paperwork showing it had cover against spills from the Russian insurer Ingosstrakh. It would be unusual to have two overlapping sets of cover, according to a veteran maritime insurance industry professional who reviewed the documentation.

Even if it does have Ingosstrakh protection against spills, there’s still an uncertainty about its validity if something were to go wrong while hauling Russian cargo that violates international regulations. The Moscow-based company has previously said that it complies with all applicable sanctions. 

That means that if a cargo didn’t comply with the $60-a-barrel cap on the price of Russian crude, then Ingosstrakh might end up not covering it.

Gray Area

The documents also shed light on the fact that authorities often receive little beyond the publicly available information around a vessel, its owners and other service providers. 

The Andromeda Star’s owner has an address that appears to be on a rural street in Goa where it’s not clear from Google Maps if a property has even been built. A message to the firm’s email address, listed on the Equasis international maritime database, was not returned.

About a month after the accident, the ship was once again sailing through Danish waters, this time hauling Russian crude that loaded when its price was being quoted above $60 a barrel by Argus Media. If the cargo on board was purchased above that level it would be in breach of western sanctions. 

In response to questions about the incident, Ingosstrakh cited the Danish Maritime Authority as saying the vessel had all of the required certifications, including insurance coverage, and that it wasn’t aware of any claimed damages in connection with the incident. It didn’t comment specifically on whether it was the insurer. 

“Ingosstrakh conducts its business in strict compliance with applicable legislation,” the Russian company said earlier this month in response to questions about whether it complied with the G-7 price cap. “The terms of our policies are based on international standards and best practices and follow the guidelines set forth by respective authorities in different countries.” 

Insurance and opaque ownership information weren’t the only quirks. 

Upon inspection after the crash, it also transpired the tanker had issues with its emergency generator, a key piece of equipment that provides backup power for the ship as a whole. 

© 2024 Bloomberg L.P.ShareDownload Article

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