Tidal Shift: Gabon Emerges as Pinnacle in Shipping Registry Growth

Russia’s Sovcomflot Sparks Unprecedented Reflagging Surge, Elevating Gabon’s Maritime Status

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In a remarkable turn of events for the maritime industry, Gabon, a petite Central African nation nestled along the Atlantic coast, has emerged as the fastest-growing shipping registry of the past year. This surge in growth has been further accelerated in the initial days of 2024, attributed to an extensive reflagging initiative orchestrated by Sovcomflot, Russia’s preeminent shipping conglomerate.

Data gleaned from Clarksons Research reveals an astounding 130.6% expansion in the Gabon flag over the course of the previous year. This burgeoned registry has garnered a substantial volume of tonnage, establishing itself as the primary flag for Russia’s dark fleet in the aftermath of Russia’s incursion into Ukraine.

The national flag of Gabon is a tricolour composition, featuring horizontal bands of green, yellow, and blue, with the latter symbolizing the sea, particularly the expansive waters of the South Atlantic Ocean.

Craig Kennedy, the author behind the Navigating Russia substack, has meticulously chronicled the rapid reflagging operation set in motion in 2024. Approximately 50 Sovcomflot (SCF) tankers, expelled from the Liberian registry, have been the focal point of this transformative maneuver.

As of January 11, Navigating Russia reports that an impressive 46 SCF tankers, formerly registered in Liberia, have undergone mass reflagging in Gabon, with indications pointing toward additional vessels following suit in the imminent future.

Kennedy speculates, “We may also see other non-SCF shadow tankers reflagging away from Liberia and the Marshall Islands in the coming weeks.” This prognostication is grounded in the mounting pressure faced by the registries of both the Marshall Islands and Liberia, both headquartered in the United States. The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the U.S. Department of the Treasury in Washington DC has intensified scrutiny and exerted influence on these registries.

Among the notable vessels now affiliated with Gabon’s registry is the Pablo, a 1997-built aframax vessel that tragically exploded in Malaysian waters, claiming three lives in May of the preceding year. This incident, coupled with the ship’s history of transporting Iranian oil and lack of insurance, stands as a poignant reminder of the perils associated with the enigmatic dark tanker fleet.

Recent data from brokers BRS divulges that the so-called “grey fleet” comprises a total of 675 tankers, constituting 7.4% of the global tanker fleet. This revelation underscores the evolving dynamics within the maritime sector, with Gabon’s ascendance as a prominent shipping registry marking a pivotal chapter in the industry’s narrative.

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