By Jonathan Saul
April 1 (Reuters) – Marine fuel sellers have stopped serving vessels flying the Russian flag at major European hubs including Spain and Malta in another blow to Moscow’s exports, five industry sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.
Losing access to refueling points in the Mediterranean Sea poses major logistical problems for Russian oil tankers going from Baltic ports to Asia and also creates safety concerns over potentially being stuck at sea with flammable cargoes, say shipping sources.
Russia is reeling from a wave of severe economic sanctions on its banks and oligarchs and foreign companies are cutting ties after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, which Russian President Vladimir Putin calls a special military operation.
Multiple factors have prompted the halt in refueling services, including what sources have described as “self sanctioning” where companies try to stay ahead of the next wave of measures by refusing to enter into contracts with Russian entities.
Payment problems due to banking restrictions have also added to complications with deals for marine fuel, which is typically priced and paid for in US dollars.
One source said Russian-flagged ships couldn’t secure marine fuel in Malta, the British overseas territory of Gibraltar or neighboring Algeciras in Spain – all major bunkering, or refueling, zones in the Mediterranean.
“Several tankers had to take a longer journey in order to bunker in other countries after European ports refused to provide fuel,” said another source who was familiar with one of the tanker’s movements.
A government official in Malta said the country was not allowing any Russian-flagged ships to come to its ports.
A transport ministry spokesperson with Spain’s Merchant Marine said it was “possible that certain providers are adopting these measures independently.”
A Gibraltar government spokesperson said port authorities would “reject calling requests by all ships either owned or operated by anyone connected to the country, not even for bunkering, in accordance to UK rules.”
The spokesperson said that as in Britain, foreign ships with Russian cargoes would be not be affected.
‘NOT DOING BUSINESS’
Russia’s maritime sector is already grappling with the winding down of other services including ship certification by leading foreign providers – vital for accessing ports and securing insurance – shipping companies pulling out and ship engine makers suspending training on their equipment.
Shipping industry sources say given the complexities of the world’s seaborne trade it was unclear how Russian companies would be able to operate with multiple services being withdrawn.
Danish marine fuels supplier and ship owner Monjasa said it had suspended “trading and supplies with Russian-flagged vessels, Russian registered companies and companies and individuals with ties or affiliation to Russian ownership” with effect from Feb. 25, a day after Russia’s invasion started.
Denmark’s Bunker Holding said it had stopped all deliveries into Russian harbors since the start of March, adding that the group and subsidiaries including Dan-Bunkering had also “ceased to enter into new obligations with Russian counterparties.”
“We are aware of the challenges this decision to stop trade with Russian counterparties imposes on clients and counterparties in the rest of the world, but with the terrible situation in Ukraine we need to act swiftly and decisively against Russia,” Bunker Holding said in a statement.
Gibraltar bunker supplier Peninsula, which is active elsewhere in the Mediterranean and other locations, said in a LinkedIn post it was “not doing business with Russian vessels, ports, companies – owned or majority owned – suppliers and financial institutions.”
Earlier this month, Britain announced sanctions on Russia’s biggest shipping company Sovcomflot.
While a ban on Russian vessels from EU ports is still under discussion, Russia’s oil and products exporters have already faced problems concluding charters for ships and insurance, shipping sources say.
(Additional reporting by Inti Landauro and Isla Binnie in Madrid, Chris Scicluna in Valletta and Rowena Edwards in London; Editing by Veronica Brown and David Clarke)
(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2022.