Tankers carrying liquid petroleum gas (LPG) have been reported to be travelling from Albania to Syria, flouting international sanctions prohibiting the supply of fuel and energy to the regime in Damascus.
According to a report on The Fuse by Lebanese journalist and researcher Noam Raydan, the tankers were spotted transporting the fuel between Romano in western Albania and Baniyas in Syria throughout 2020. Raydan has been tracking two of the vessels for months to discover their methods of avoiding sanctions.
The LPG tanker Melody left Romano on 16 November and was waiting off the coast of Cyprus on 22 November when it switched off its transponder, "going dark" that same day. It went on its way to Syria, where it was seen off the coast of Baniyas in satellite images, before returning to Cyprus 12 days later and switching its tracking equipment back on.
"When the AIS transponder goes off, there is generally something suspicious occurring, as the AIS transponder is a critical piece of navigational safety equipment," the head of Business Development at International Maritime Risk Rating Agency (IMRRA), Wayne Hurley, told Raydan. "Reputable transparent charterers, owners, managers, would not turn the transponders off."
According to the online shipping database Equasis, the tanker also changed its flag three times between 2015 and 2018, switching between Mongolia, Tanzania, and Comoros. All of those states, said Hurley, are known for "a particularly weak record of enforcing international law."
The Melody has an interesting back story. In 2015 it was called Blue Way when it was owned by the Turkish company Milenyum Energy SA which was blacklisted and sanctioned by the US Department of Treasury that year for supplying fuel to Syria.
According to the Treasury, "Milenyum has responded to the Syrian regime's energy needs by regularly arranging for the shipment of products such as liquefied petroleum gas and Gasoil to the Syrian Government-controlled port of Baniyas, likely for SYTROL or other Syrian government entities."
Another ship tracked by Raydan was the Jaguar S, which travelled between Romano and Baniyas as recently as June after picking up fuel from the Albanian port on 15 May. That vessel also switched off its AIS transponder system when anchoring in Turkey in order to divert attention from its destination.
The investigation carried out by Raydan – along with IMRRA, Marine Traffic, and Tanker Trackers – reveals yet further instances of companies attempting to flout US and EU sanctions against the Syrian regime of Bashar Al-Assad. It comes after a Danish company was reported last month to have also been violating the sanctions.