As sanctions sting, Russian traffic traffic remains tight

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As sanctions sting, Russian traffic traffic remains tight

According to data from the shipping tracker Refinitiv, volumes of crude and oil products exported out of Russian ports increased to 25 million metric tonnes in April, up from about 24 million metric tonnes in December, January, February, and March, and mostly above the global average.

“The volume has been slow to decline, because these were contracts that have already been set,” Mitchell said. Defaulting on such contracts is “a nightmare for both sides,” he said, adding, “which means that even in the current environment nobody really wants to breach a contract.”

But the global activities of the massive vessels that call on Russian ports to pick up and deliver containers of consumer products or bulk-loads of grain and oil are easier to monitor. Ships are required to transmit their identity, position, course and other information through automatic tracking systems, which are monitored by a variety of firms including Refinitiv, MarineTraffic and Kpler.

Russia has stopped publishing data on its imports and exports since Western governments united to announce their array of sanctions and other restrictions. Exports of oil or gas that leave Russia through pipelines can be difficult for outside firms to verify.

Story Highlights

  • That position may alter dramatically in the coming months, as the European Union prepares to impose a ban on Russian oil. However, while trade with Russia has been decreased in many situations, it has not yet been crippled, according to data.

  • Crude oil typically trades 45 to 60 days before delivery, he said, meaning that changes to behaviour following the Russian invasion were still working their way through the system.

These firms say shipping traffic was relatively robust in March and April, despite the extraordinary tensions with Russia since its invasion of Ukraine. That reflects both how long some of the sanctions issued by the West are taking to come into effect, as well as an enduring profit motive for trading with Russia, especially after prices for its energy products and commodities have cratered.

Data from MarineTraffic, a platform that shows the live location of ships around the world using those on-ship tracking systems, indicates that traffic from Russia’s major ports declined after the invasion but did not plummet. The number of container ships, tankers and bulkers — the three main types of vessels that move energy and consumer products — arriving and leaving Russian ports was down about 23 per cent in March and April compared with the year earlier.

“The reality is that the sanctions haven’t been so difficult to maneuver around,” said Georgios Hatzimanolis, who analyses global shipping for MarineTraffic. Tracking by Lloyd’s List Intelligence, a maritime information service, shows similar trends. The number of bulk carriers, which transport loose cargo like grain, coal and fertilizer, that sailed from Russian ports in the five weeks after the invasion was down only 6 per cent from the five-week period before the invasion, according to the service.

In the weeks following the invasion, Russia’s trade with China and Japan was broadly stable, and the number of bulk carriers headed to South Korea, Egypt and Turkey actually increased, their data showed. “There’s still a lot of traffic back and forth,” said Sebastian Villyn, head of risk and compliance data at Lloyd’s List Intelligence. “We haven’t really seen a drop.”