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A stock image of an oil tanker. Alamy Stock Photo
Clare coast

Coast Guard and Naval Service watch over Russian 'shadow fleet' oil tanker off the west coast

The ship was spotted off the Clare and Galway coasts and maritime industry sources said it was believed she was sheltering from bad weather in the Atlantic.

THE COAST GUARD and the Naval Service launched an operation off the west coast to monitor an oil tanker alleged to be part of Russia’s so-called shadow fleet.

The oil tanker which is registered in Panama has previously been listed in investigations into the activities of ships used to usurp sanctions on the trafficking of oil from Iran and Russia. 

The ship was spotted off the Clare and Galway coasts and maritime industry sources said it was believed she was sheltering from bad weather before heading south to Africa. 

The ship showed up on the Automatic Identification System (AIS) late last week off the west coast. It’s last return on AIS was almost two days ago as it headed south on its voyage to Ghana. 

It was last registered on AIS in the Atlantic off the County Cork coast. 

Online information sources show that the ship has recently visited India, China and Russia.

A spokesperson for the Department of Transport confirmed the presence of the ship off the Irish coast. 

“On the morning of the 8 February, the Coast Guard observed that a number of vessels that were sheltering from a weather system circulating off the West and South West coast.

“The presence of the [ship] was noted and it was monitored in conjunction with the Naval Service. In terms of its assigned responsibilities the Coast Guard did not identify any pollution risks nor was it advised of any mechanical defects. The vessel departed on the 10 February 2024,” a statement read. 

The shadow or dark fleet is a term coined to describe as many as 500 ships that are part of a flotilla of vessels used by Russia and Iran to move oil and other products around the world. 

It has been claimed that this is an effort to find a way around international sanctions introduced in the wake of the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

The French newspaper Le Monde reported in August of last year that on 1 May an old tanker, the Pablo, blew up off the coast of Malaysia. 

That investigation found that the Pablo was moving Iranian and Russian oil.

Generally the ships are old and past an age considered to be safe.

Other reports have identified the ship found circling off the Irish coast as one of those shadow fleet vessels. 

Sources said that while the tanker was sheltering from huge seas in the Bay of Biscay and the broader Atlantic, there has been much spoken about Russian ship activities in Irish waters. 

In April a number of commercial Russian ships were spotted in the same area off the west coast and were monitored by the Irish Air Corps and Naval Service. 

It is believed those ships were en route to an oil project off the west African coast. 

General Hans-Werner Wiermann, head of Critical Undersea Infrastructure Co-ordination, previously told The Journal that it was fair to assume Russian ships were mapping critical infrastructure off the coast.

Sources have said that it is a regular occurrence for the Coast Guard and the Naval Service to monitor transiting Russian ships however last week’s spotting of the oil tanker is the first to be confirmed.