Polish refiner Orlen has in recent months chartered at least 10 tankers that previously shipped Russian oil to Asia to deliver Arab crude to its refineries in Lithuania and Poland on their return journey, according to two traders and LSEG data.
Many oil majors have avoided contracting tankers that have carried Russian crude because of the risk of sanctions and self-imposed restrictions.
Using the tankers operated by non-Russian shipping firms, but delivering Russian oil and products is not in breach of any sanctions, but the shipments are subject to the price cap policy imposed by the Group of Seven (G7) leading economies.
Under the price cap, western companies can ship and provide insurance for Russian oil and products provided they are sold at less than $60 per barrel.
Poland, formerly one of the largest importers of crude from Russia, stopped purchases of Russian oil this spring and has been a staunch supporter of Ukraine in its war against Russia that Moscow calls a special military operation.
Orlen, which replaced Russian barrels with oil from the Middle East and the North Sea, is able to get cheaper shipping rates if it uses the tankers that have shipped Russian oil because demand for them is low, traders said.
One of the traders involved in Russian oil trade said Orlen was getting attractive rates because its imports of Arab crude meant tankers could travel back loaded instead of empty.
“Dead freight is one of the issues when working with Russian oil as not all companies agree to use ships involved in Urals deliveries,” the trader said.
Orlen said it was not involved in any Russian oil shipping and it screened all vessels it uses to ensure no Russian sanctions are violated.
“All our activities, including those related to the delivery of crude oil, are in line with the applicable sanctions,” it said in a statement.
Asked if it chartered the vessels on the their return from shipping Russian crude to Asia, it said it did not comment on commercial issues or give details of its cooperation with business partners.
TO ASIA AND BACK
The rates for Russian oil shipping jumped to all-time highs earlier this year after the European Union and the G7 imposed sanctions that made many ship-owners avoid Russian barrels. The cost eased as Russia bought more vessels or managed to charter others. Russian oil has been mostly shipped to Asia following the EU embargo.
LSEG’s Eikon data shows Orlen has chartered at least 10 vessels for oil deliveries from the Middle East to Poland’s Gdansk and Lithuania’s Butinge over the course of just over three months. The ships have also called in Russian Baltic ports.
In one instance, tanker Aframax Nissos Serifos loaded some 100,000 tonnes of Urals crude supplied by Russia’s Zarubezhneft in the Baltic port of Primorsk on May 23 for delivery to the port of Mundra in West India.
On the way back, the vessel loaded 100,000 tonnes of Arab Light crude at the Saudi port of Sidi Kerir on July 22 for delivery to the Polish port of Gdansk. Other tankers included the Waikiki, Bonita, Nissos Delos, Calida, Anafi Warrior, Ark, Lovina and Botafogo that supplied oil, mostly from the Middle East, to Gdansk and Butinge before heading to Russia’s nearby Primorsk and Ust-Luga, the data shows.
The vessels are managed by Greek shipowners including TMS Tankers and Kyklades Maritime, according to LSEG data.
TMS Tankers and Kyklades Maritime did not respond to a request for comment. Saudi Aramco declined to comment. Some of the vessels completed this route twice, shipping oil to India from Russia and travelling back to Poland with oil from Sidi Kerir, the data shows.
Source: Hellenic Shipping News