Black markets are inevitable when governments introduce price caps and sanctions into legitimate markets. From Tsvetana Paraskova at oilprice.com:
- Sanctions on key oil exporters have given rise to a lucrative black market for crude.
- The EU embargo on Russian crude oil imports and the price cap on Russian crude are set to further increase illicit shipments of oil.
- Russia is already thought to be amassing a “dark fleet” of tankers to ship its oil outside the price cap regime.
The sanctions on the oil exports of Venezuela and Iran, and now Russia, have given rise to a lucrative under-the-radar oil trade in which less scrupulous vessel owners, shipping firms, and traders continue to sell sanctioned oil to those willing to take the risk to buy it.
The EU embargo on Russian crude oil imports and the price cap on Russian crude – in force since December 5 – are set to further increase illicit shipments of oil to countries outside the EU and the G7 that haven’t joined the so-called Price Cap Coalition.
Russia is already thought to be amassing a “dark fleet” of tankers to ship its oil outside the price cap regime and it has the playbooks of Iran and Venezuela to take a leaf out of and continue exporting large volumes of its crude and products. Russia could be using tried-and-tested tactics of labeling the oil as sourced from elsewhere, turning off tanker transponders, and even falsifying the positions of tankers via the Automatic Identification System (AIS) data to hide activity taking place hundreds of miles away from the false positioning data.
By using various spoofing tactics, producers and sellers of sanctioned oil still get to place their products with buyers who are happy to get heavily discounted crude.
But not all buyers, especially those in jurisdictions with strict controls and checks such as the U.S., are tempted to discard concerns and red flags about a cargo’s origin. Other buyers, especially independent Chinese refiners, are unfazed as their priority is to buy low-priced crude and make good profits refining it. China, the world’s top oil importer, continues to buy Iranian and Venezuelan crude, often masked as crude from Malaysia or Oman, various analysis and investigative reports have found over the past few years.