Russia’s tanker ships switched off tracking systems nearly 33 times over last week, per location data shared with Bloomberg by a risk consultancy dubbed Windward. That’s about double the usual weekly rate.
The tactic is popular as “dark activity” or “going dark”, and has been flagged by the US Treasury as one of the many deceptive measures taken for evading sanctions. The data reflects ship-to-ship meetings that are taking place could be long enough for transferring cargo to vessels without any sanctions, even though the frequency of these meetings is at a usual level.
Windward mentioned last week that 22 vessels have stepped into Russian waters for the first time in weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine. The news follows reports that nine superyachts that are owned by Russian tycoons and oligarchs — many of whom were sanctioned — turned off the tracking signals over last week.
All vessels that weigh 300 gross metric tons or higher and sail on international voyages need to install tracking technologies, or an automatic identification system (AIS), per the International Maritime Organization (IMO) website.
Some classes of vessels that do international voyages are needed by international conventions to broadcast AIS location signals always.
Last May, during a sanctions advisory, the US Treasury had warned that vessels taking part in illicit activities could intentionally disable AIS transponders. They may even manipulate the data transmitted to mask their movements.
Many countries, including the UK and the US, have banned both Russia’s oil and vessels from ports after the country invaded Ukraine. The sanctions placed on Russia’s oligarchs have resulted in a flurry of highly scrutinized ship movements as superyachts and owners attempt to escape seizures.
Switching off the location data — on passenger or commercial vessels — could make it more difficult for enterprises to avoid doing business with sanctioned individuals or entities.