Despite a tanker fire, Russian oil continues to navigate the Red Sea

According to shipping executives, analysts, and flow data, Russian oil tankers have consistently navigated the Red Sea with minimal disruption from Houthi attacks on shipping. These tankers face lower risks compared to their competitors.

Since the invasion of Ukraine, Russia has increased its reliance on trade routes through the Suez Canal and the Red Sea. This shift occurred as a response to the imposition of sanctions on Russian imports by Europe, compelling Moscow to redirect a significant portion of its crude exports to China and India. Prior to the war, Russia had a higher volume of exports directed towards Europe.

Oil analytics firm Vortexa has reported a modest decrease in the count of Russian ships traversing the Red Sea since December. However, despite this decline, the traffic volume last week remained approximately 20% higher than the average recorded in 2023.

This is in stark contrast to the broader disruptions experienced in oil tanker sailings through the Red Sea over the past two weeks.

Vortexa data reveals that shipments of diesel and jet fuel from the Middle East and Asia to Europe, a significant east-to-west oil trade route, experienced a near standstill in the days following the initial round of U.S.-led retaliatory strikes on Yemen on January 11.

Russia’s close ties with Iran, a supporter of the Houthis, may have played a role in preventing attacks on ships carrying Russian oil. These vessels typically lack connections to Israel, the United States, or Britain, which aligns with the Houthis’ targeting strategy aimed at countries associated with these ships, demonstrating solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.

G7 sanctions on Russia’s oil trade due to the Ukraine war have led to a surge in the shadow fleet of vessels transporting sanctioned crude and fuel. These vessels, often leased by companies registered outside sanctioning countries, utilize maritime services and insurance from non-sanctioning nations, making them less likely targets for attacks.

Given their limited connections to Western companies, vessels in the shadow fleet are perceived as less vulnerable to Houthi attacks. Many Russian cargo vessels are indicating a lack of ties to Israel through signals from automatic identification systems (AIS), which publicly broadcast information about a vessel’s position and destination, as noted by Vortexa analyst Mary Melton.

Russia, maintaining partnerships with key Arab powers like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, along with its ties to Iran, has condemned what it perceives as ‘irresponsible’ strikes. Chinese officials have urged Iran to restrain attacks on ships in the Red Sea, emphasizing the need to avoid harm to Chinese interests, according to Iranian sources and a diplomat cited by Reuters last week.

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