Russian oil is traveling to Asia on tankers that used to carry sanctioned Iranian crude, as 'dark' trading expands

Russian oil is traveling to Asia on tankers that used to carry sanctioned Iranian crude, as 'dark' trading expands
Russian President Vladimir Putin travelled to Iran for diplomatic talks this week.ATTA KENARE/Getty Images
  • Tankers which once carried sanctioned Iranian oil are now taking Russian crude to Asia, analytics company Vortexa said.
  • Vortexa also said the number of ship-to-ship transfers of Russian oil involving vessels with their signals turned off is growing.

Tankers that used to carry Iranian oil are now loading up on Russian crude to take it to Asia, as fear of Western backlash forces trading in the region to "go dark", according to energy analytics company Vortexa.

Since April, there have been at least 11 tankers that have loaded Russian oil and which previously carried Iranian crude, Vortexa said in a note on Friday. Vortexa analyst Armen Azizian, who wrote the note, told Insider the cargoes have all been bound for Asia.

Vortexa said the number of Atlantic ocean ship-to-ship transfers of Russian oil involving vessels which have turned off their tracking signals — a practice known as "going dark" — is growing.

"As more companies scale back from carrying Russian crude/products, those familiar with the sanctioned crude trade will continue using their tankers to assist Russia in exporting oil East of Suez," Azizian said in the note.

He said Russia, Iran and Venezuela — all countries suffering under the weight of US sanctions — are increasingly competing to sell their oil to India and China.


After Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, Western nations rushed to impose sanctions on Moscow. The US and the UK banned the import of Russian oil.

Although not directly affected by the sanctions, many major energy traders and companies are "self-sanctioning" and steering clear products from the country.

However, India and China have stepped up their purchases of Russian oil, which is trading at a steep discount.

The sales have been facilitated by companies that are willing to risk the ire of the US and its allies, some of which are employing methods such as ship-to-ship transfers and going dark to decrease the risk of detection.

Azizian told Insider that ships registered in Panama and Liberia are among those to have switched from Iranian to Russian oil.


Russia's attempt to pivot towards Asia is driving competition in the region, Vortexa's report said.

"It is very clear that Russia is competing with Iran and Venezuela for so far limited placement options in East of Suez markets, essentially only China and India," it said.

"Meanwhile, the rising inflows of sanctioned or quasi-sanctioned (Russian) oil into Asian markets cause difficulties for some Middle Eastern suppliers to place all their medium-to-heavy sour barrels, with Iraq reducing official selling prices relative to competitors as a consequence."

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