The fleet of “ghost ships” is getting bigger

  By Marek Grzybowski

Satellite technologies help track tankers carrying illegal oil. In its latest statistics, Windward states that it has already identified approximately 1,100 ships that constitute “guest ships”. A growing number of “ghost ships” in the world’s fleet are focused on servicing the illegal trade in oil and grains. The black fleet mainly uses older and cheaper ships, in worse technical condition and flying mainly under convenient flags. But this has its consequences, which the insurer is warned about.
Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty SE (AGCS) in the Safety & Shipping Review 2023 issued warnings about the dark clouds that have appeared over shipping as the fleet of “ghost ships” increases. In particular, the insurer drew attention to the growing number of tankers violating sanctions and the increasing number of ship fires in 2022. We recently witnessed a fire on a car carrier with 3,000 tons. vehicles on board. AGCS, based on data from 2022, draws attention to fires on board container ships and car carriers.

Problems with tankers
“More than a year after Russia invaded Ukraine, the expansion of the shadow tanker fleet is the latest development challenging shipowners, their crews and insurers,” Captain Rahul Khanna, Global Director of Maritime Risk at AGCS.
To interest sailors in working on black fleet ships, unscrupulous operators offer them higher wages. – We keep hearing from many operators that their crews are being offered more money to go and work on a dark fleet, said John Martin, managing director of P&I Gard insurers in Singapore, last week at the Nautical Institute conference (Singapore), reports “Seatrade Maritime” . .
The shadow ship fleet allows Russia to effectively sell oil to international buyers without valid insurance. The shadow fleet is estimated to be about 15% of the Suezmax fleet and 10% of the Aframax fleet are violating the rules, according to TankerTrackers data.
– The fleet of ghost ships will likely consist of older ships, flying flags of convenience and characterized by lower maintenance standards,” said Justus Heinrich, global product leader of Marine Hull at AGCS, emphasizing that “The increase in their number is a worrying phenomenon that threatens the global fleet and the environment. A serious incident may result in loss of life, as well as uninsured damage or pollution [of the sea or coast – MG].

Satellites will track the ghost ships
Tools for identifying ghost ships are getting better. – Finding a Black Fleet tanker [at sea – MG] is now much easier than finding a car in a shopping mall parking lot during the holidays! – emphasizes in the latest post by TankerTrakers on the “X” platform and adds: We are glad that we have received positive feedback from customers about this new function! The map is not based on AIS data, but on our daily observations from land and space.”
In May 2023, there was an explosion on the Pablo tanker, which was transporting crude oil ordered by a forwarder evading sanctions. 3 members died. The spill caused an ecological disaster. The hull remained unprotected, anchored off the coast of Malaysia. Industry observers and law enforcement knew it was only a matter of time before something like this (or worse) happened. However, their actions were minor.
The essence of avoiding sanctions by providing transport and reloading services with the use of “ghost” ships was recently explained during a seminar by Samir Madani, co-founder of, Inc.
“Gost Ship” is a term referring to old and aging ships, mainly tankers, carrying products from sanctioned countries such as Russia, Iran and North Korea, without complying with international regulations, explained Samir Madani.

Ghost ships pose a threat to other ships and the environment
Sanctions on Russian oil trade imposed following Russia’s attack on Ukraine in 2022 highlighted the role of these ships not only in helping countries avoid sanctions, but also in causing maritime disasters and geopolitical problems for coastal states, TankerTrackers emphasizes.
The idea is that ships pass through busy sea passages, which poses a risk to other vessels.
– Based on almost 45,000 observations from space and land, we have created a map of the world’s Black Fleet of ghost tankers. To keep customers up-to-date and transparent, the map shows 335 tankers that have been sighted in the last 15 days alone! – informs TankerTrackers.
The AGCS report highlighted the grounding of the ghost tanker Arzoyi in eastern China in March last year, the Petion collision in Cuba a few days later and the capture of the Linda 1 tanker drifting off the coast of Spain in November last year. The most serious incident occurred in May this year. An uninsured Aframax vessel registered in Gabon suffered a fire and explosion.

Baltic Sea at risk?
– As this incident shows, there are many disturbing scenarios, such as a collision with an uninsured black fleet vessel that will cause serious damage to the environment – says Captain Nitin Chopra, senior marine risk consultant at AGCS.
It can be assumed that of the approximately 1,100 ships of the black fleet, some of them also sail in the Baltic Sea. Therefore, it should be taken into account that a collision with an uninsured ship may occur on the route to the Baltic ports.
It may also happen that a unit in poor technical condition or inoperative may be damaged. Therefore, special precautions should be taken in the Baltic Sea regarding the movement of “ghost” ships.
Satellite technologies and tools already exist that will allow tracking suspicious entities and it is worth using them before a disaster occurs.