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Port Authority underlines tough stance on Russian ships after Ceuta claims

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The Gibraltar Port Authority [GPA] dismissed recent reports in Spanish regional media suggesting Gibraltar was somehow “conniving” with Russian interests to help them skirt oil sanctions arising from Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

The claim in Spanish media followed reports that Russian oil was being transhipped from small tankers into larger vessel in international waters off Ceuta.

The EU banned imports of Russian crude oil last December and earlier this month expanded that ban to include petroleum products refined from crude such as diesel and petrol.

Vortexa, a consultancy that tracks Russian tankers, said fleets of feeder tankers loaded with oil at Russian ports on the Black Sea arrive off Ceuta and transfer their loads to very large crude carriers, or VLCCs, which continue the 40-day sea journey, looping below the Cape of Good Hope to China.

Since December, according to Vortexa data, six VLCCs have dropped anchor outside Ceuta, and at least three of the ships are Chinese-owned.

“VLCCs are awaiting offshore Ceuta, rather than the North Atlantic because the peninsula offshore Ceuta provides protection from prevailing Atlantic wind and swell that comes in the Mediterranean but also provides proximity to the Atlantic for voyages to China via the Cape of Good Hope,” the consultancy said in its analysis.

After Spanish national newspapers reported on the story last week, smaller regional publications picked it up and focused on claims that two of the vessels involved in the transhipment operations off Ceuta had earlier called in Gibraltar for bunkers or crew changes.

The suggestion was that Russia was “evading European sanctions with ships in Gibraltar”.

But the GPA said Gibraltar has some of the toughest rules on ships owned or controlled by Russian interests.

Since March 2, 2022, shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, the Port of Gibraltar banned any vessel owned, controlled, charted or operated by any person connected with Russia, or by anyone on the UK sanctions list.

The ban also applies to vessels flying the Russian flag, registered in Russia or carrying any cargo in any way linked to Russia or any sanctioned person.

Additionally, port operators and service providers in Gibraltar are prohibited from directly or indirectly providing services for ship-to-ship transfers outside British Gibraltar Territorial Waters.

It also prohibits the exportation of fenders and associated equipment from Gibraltar in support of operations outside British waters without express permission of the Captain of the Port and the relevant minister, which is only granted in exceptional circumstances where the equipment will not be used for ship-to-ship operations.

“This rule effectively means that Gibraltar-based operators cannot supply the fenders necessary for ship-to-ship operations taking place in international waters,” the Gibraltar Port Authority said.

Additionally, the GPA said it was not providing any type of service to vessels of any flag proceeding from Russian ports or stating a Russian port as the next destination.

That decision follows the sanctions on Russia imposed by the Government of Gibraltar in line with UK policy and “goes well beyond UK and EU sanctions in this regard”.

“Today Russian owned or connected vessels are still able to access ports of the EU or UK,” the GPA said.

“Morocco, on the other hand, has no sanctions in place against Russia.”

The GPA said the two ships cited in the Spanish reports were empty tankers flagged in third countries which did not arrive in Gibraltar from Russia and showed no indication of any Russian interest being involved.

The ships took on fuel in Gibraltar and then sailed to international waters off Ceuta.

“According to applicable protocols there was no reason to refuse them service,” the GPA said.

“The port of Gibraltar is already applying stricter rules than any EU or UK port against Russian connected vessels and following and going beyond UK and EU sanctions, as well as forbidding the facilitation of ship-to-ship operations outside Gibraltar waters.”

“There are no grounds therefore to accuse Gibraltar of ‘conniving’ with Russian interests, as some Spanish media have, when in fact Spanish and Moroccan ports can and do provide services to Russian shipping because different legal measures are applied.”

The Spanish Government acknowledged that ship-to-ship transfers were being carried out near Ceuta but said it was unable to prohibit or regulate the activity because it was being conducted in international waters.

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