Oil tanker’s impossible voyage signals new sanction evasion ploy

Oil tanker’s impossible voyage signals new sanction evasion ploy
Vehicles line up near a gas station to fill their tanks in Caracas. Maritime safety mechanisms have become a powerful mechanism for tracking ships engaged in rogue activities like transporting sanctioned crude oil to places like Venezuela. (AP)
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Updated 28 May 2021

Oil tanker’s impossible voyage signals new sanction evasion ploy

Oil tanker’s impossible voyage signals new sanction evasion ploy
  • In recent years, as the US has expanded economic sanctions and tracking technology has become more widely used, companies have adopted a number of techniques to evade detection

MIAMI: The Cyprus-flagged oil tanker Berlina was drifting near the Caribbean island of Dominica earlier this year when tracking technology showed it stopping in its tracks and in two minutes turning around 180 degrees.
It was an amazingly quick pivot since the 274-meter (nearly 900-foot) ship needs roughly 10 times that amount of time to perform such a maneuver.
Even more intriguing: Around the same time the Berlina was pinging its location at sea, it was physically spotted loading crude oil in nearby Venezuela despite US sanctions against such trading.
Meanwhile, nine other ships, some connected to the same Greece-based owner of the Berlina, were digitally monitored moving nearby at an identical speed and direction with sudden draft changes, indicating they had somehow been loaded full of crude though apparently out at sea.
The Berlina’s impossible journey could represent the next frontier of how rogue states and their enablers manipulate GPS-like tracking systems to hide their movements while circumventing sanctions, maritime experts say.
In recent years, as the US has expanded economic sanctions and tracking technology has become more widely used, companies have adopted a number of techniques to evade detection. Most involve a ship going dark, by turning off its mandatory automated identification system or by “spoofing” the identity and registration information of another ship, sometimes a sunken or scrapped vessel.
Windward, a maritime intelligence agency whose data is used by the US to investigate sanctions violations, carried out a detailed investigation into the Berlina. It considers the movements of the Berlina and the other ships to be one of the first instances of orchestrated manipulation in which vessels went dark for an extended period while off-ship agents used machines to hide their activities by making it appear they were transmitting their locations normally.
Militaries around the world have been using the same electronic warfare technology for decades. But it is only now cropping up in commercial shipping, with serious national security, environmental and maritime safety implications.
“We believe this is going to spread really fast because it’s so efficient and easy,” Matan Peled, co-founder of Windward, said in an interview. “And it’s not just a maritime challenge. Imagine what would happen if small planes started adopting this tactic to hide their true locations?”
Under a United Nations maritime treaty, ships of over 300 tons have been required since 2004 to use the automated identification system to avoid collisions and assist rescues in the event of a spill or accident at sea. Tampering with its use is a major breach that can lead to consequences for a vessel and its owners.
But the maritime safety mechanism has also become a powerful mechanism for tracking ships engaged in rogue activities like illegal fishing or transporting sanctioned crude oil to and from places under US or international sanctions like Venezuela, Iran and North Korea.
In the cat-and-mouse game that has ensued, the advent of digital ghosts leaving false tracks could give the bad actors the upper hand, said Russ Dallen, the Miami-based head of Caracas Capital Markets brokerage, who tracks maritime activity near Venezuela.
“It’s pretty clear the bad guys will learn from these mistakes and next time will leave a digital trail that more closely resembles the real thing,” Dallen said. “The only way to verify its true movement will be to get a physical view of the ship, which is time consuming and expensive.”
The Berlina never reported a port call while floating in the Caribbean. Nonetheless, on March 5, the draft indicated by its identification system went from 9 meters to 17 meters (30 feet to 60 feet), suggesting it had been loaded with oil.
Was it manipulation or a malfunction?
While the Berlina’s voyage remains something of a mystery, Vortexa, a London-based energy cargo tracker, determined the tanker had loaded at the Venezuelan port of Jose on March 2 and then headed toward Asia. Separately, Windward also confirmed the crude delivery through two sources.
Two months later, on May 5, the Berlina discharged its crude in a ship-to-ship transfer to a floating storage vessel, the CS Innovation, according to Vortexa. The CS Innovation remains off the coast of Malaysia where the transfer took place and has undertaken a number of ship-to-ship transfers in the interim, making it nearly impossible to know where Venezuela’s oil will end up.
Adding to suspicions, the Berlina and at least four of the nine other vessels involved in the Caribbean voyage earlier this year are connected to the same Greek company, according to Windward. And all 10 vessels switched flags — another common ploy used to make it harder to keep track of ships — to Cyprus in the four months prior to the manipulation of the fleet’s tracking information.
The AP was unable to locate any contact information for the Berlina’s ship manager or owner, both of which are based in the port city of Pireaus, near Athens.
Peled said the Berlina’s activities may never have been detected if not for a tip it received from an external source that it wouldn’t identify.
But the know-how gained from the investigation has allowed it to identify other recent examples of location tampering, including one in January when a ship it did not identify was spotted loading Iranian crude at Kharg island while broadcasting its location out at sea somewhere else in the Arabian Gulf.
While the US government has additional resources to ferret out such deceptive practices, doing so will require extra effort.
“It suggests the length to which rogue actors are willing to go, to hide their activities,” said Marshall Billingslea, an assistant Treasury secretary for terrorist financing during the Trump administration and former deputy undersecretary of the Navy. “It’s a worrisome trend and given the huge volume of maritime traffic will introduce a lot more noise into the system.”


Indian CARS24 raises $20m from the Commercial Bank of Dubai

Indian CARS24 raises $20m from the Commercial Bank of Dubai
Image: Shutterstock
Updated 13 sec ago

Indian CARS24 raises $20m from the Commercial Bank of Dubai

Indian CARS24 raises $20m from the Commercial Bank of Dubai
  • The funding came following CARS24 's $450 million funding round last September

RIYADH: India-based automotive e-commerce platform CARS24 raised 75 million dirham ($20 million) in local debt funding from the Commercial Bank of Dubai.

The debt funding fuels the company’s operational expansion in the UAE and provides it with significant funding flexibility, Wamda reported. 

The funding came following CARS24 's $450 million funding round last September, and its announcement of further investing $23 million in the UAE and other GCC countries to expand its presence.

“Since last year, there has been a huge increase in the number of online2offline businesses, partially due to the recent global pandemic.  We see a clear need to back these businesses and provide them with the funds they require to scale up and expand,” 

 CBD chief Bernd van Linder said. 

Founded in 2015, CARS24 launched its operations in the UAE market in May 2021 with a presence in Australia, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, allowing its customers to buy and sell pre-owned vehicles online.


Industry leaders to attend Riyadh mineral summit in 2022

Industry leaders to attend Riyadh mineral summit in 2022
Updated 2 min 48 sec ago

Industry leaders to attend Riyadh mineral summit in 2022

Industry leaders to attend Riyadh mineral summit in 2022

RIYADH: Industry leaders from around the world will attend the Future Minerals Summit, which will be held next year from Jan. 11 to 13 in Riyadh, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

Prominent organizations include ACWA Power, Lucid Motor, Barrick Gold Corp., Ivanhoe Mines, the World Bank, the World Gold Council, and the International Council on Mining and Metals. 

The event aims to showcase investment opportunities in the Kingdom’s mining sector.

More than 50 international speakers will attend the summit. Ministers from over 25 Asian and African countries will also hold a meeting, the Saudi Industry Ministry has confirmed.

Speakers will highlight the existing opportunities in the fast-developing mining sector in Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa, said Khalid Al-Mudaifer, vice minister for mining affairs at the Saudi Ministry of Industry and Mineral Resources.


UAE’s DEWA selects banks for multi-billion dollar IPO

UAE’s DEWA selects banks for multi-billion dollar IPO
Updated 7 min 8 sec ago

UAE’s DEWA selects banks for multi-billion dollar IPO

UAE’s DEWA selects banks for multi-billion dollar IPO

RIYADH: Dubai’s main supplier of water and electricity, DEWA, has selected Citigroup, HSBC Holdings, Emirates NBD Bank to lead its initial public offering, Bloomberg reported.

The state-owned company is expected to become the biggest listing in the emirate, and is planning to seek a valuation of around $20 billion to $25 billion.

DEWA has also picked other banks for minor roles.

While Dubai requires companies to sell at least 25 percent of their shares in IPO, the state-owned utility may opt for a smaller amount at first.

The company caters to all Dubai residents and operated 12.3 gigawatts of power capacity last year.

 


UAE’s ADNOC to invest $127bn in 2022-26 as oil, gas reserves rise

UAE’s ADNOC to invest $127bn in 2022-26 as oil, gas reserves rise
Image: Shutterstock
Updated 16 min 12 sec ago

UAE’s ADNOC to invest $127bn in 2022-26 as oil, gas reserves rise

UAE’s ADNOC to invest $127bn in 2022-26 as oil, gas reserves rise
  • ADNOC said that reinforced the UAE’s position as number six in the world for oil reserves and number seven for gas reserves

Abu Dhabi National Oil Company announced on Wednesday a $127 billion capital spending plan for 2022-2026, as it reported an increase in the United Arab Emirates’ oil and natural gas reserves.


The state-owned company said national reserves had risen by 4 billion stock tank barrels, stb, of oil and 16 trillion standard cubic feet, scf, of natural gas, taking the totals to 111 billion stb and 289 trillion scf respectively.


ADNOC said that reinforced the UAE’s position as number six in the world for oil reserves and number seven for gas reserves.


Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Moahmmed bin Zayed chaired the company’s annual board meeting, which approved capital spending of 466 billion dirhams ($127 billion) for 2022-2026, up from $122 billion for 2021-25.


The investment will expand upstream production capacity, the company’s downstream portfolio, plus low carbon and clean energy businesses, it said, without giving details.


ADNOC said that since the launch of its so-called in-country value program in 2018, it had driven 105 billion dirhams back into the UAE economy and created over 3,000 jobs in the private sector, including over 1,000 this year.


It aims to drive over 160 billion dirhams back into the UAE economy across 2022-2026 through the same program, it added.


The ADNOC board also approved a “New Energies Strategy” aimed at reducing its carbon footprint and capitalizing on opportunities in renewable energy, hydrogen and other lower carbon fuels.


Separately, the government announced a global clean energy powerhouse intended to spearhead the drive to net-zero carbon by 2050.

Consolidating their combined efforts in renewable energy and green hydrogen, Abu Dhabi National Energy Company PJSC (TAQA), Mubadala Investment Co. and ADNOC will partner under the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (Masdar) brand.


The partnership will have a combined current, committed, and exclusive capacity of over 23 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy, with the expectation of reaching well over 50 GW total capacity by 2030, TAQA said in a separate statement.


TAQA will take the leading role with a 43 percent shareholding in Masdar’s renewable energy business, with Mubadala holding 33 percent and ADNOC 24 percent.


Meanwhile, ADNOC will take the leading role with a 43 percent shareholding in Masdar’s green hydrogen business, with Mubadala holding 33 percent and TAQA 24 percent, it said.


Egyptian startup Klickit completes its first funding round 

Egyptian startup Klickit completes its first funding round 
Updated 30 min 28 sec ago

Egyptian startup Klickit completes its first funding round 

Egyptian startup Klickit completes its first funding round 

RIYADH: Egypt-based fintech Klickit has completed its first investment round, led by EFG Finance and Camel Ventures, the venture capital arm of dfin Holdings, Wanda reported. 

The amount of the funding is not disclosed.

The investment seeks to solidify the startup’s technology stack and implement value-added services to sell new services to the company’s wide network of schools and universities. 

Founded in 2017, Klickit is a payment management and digital collection platform that aims to digitize payment services. 

Klickit currently serves over 55,000 Egyptian public schools, and more than 25 million students, under the Ministry of Education.  

It has processed over 500 million Egyptian pounds ($32 million) in different kinds of payment transactions for educational entities since its inception.