Russian ghost ship disguised its presence near Malta by claiming it was in Greece

A Russian oil tanker has been tracked by an NGO plying the waters around Malta in a suspected training exercise for busting EU and G7 oil shipment sanctions imposed against Russia.

The transponder signal of the Russian tanker, the Kapitan Schemilkin, was found to have been tampered with to make it appear as though it was moving in circles around Greece when, in actual fact, it was moored offshore east of Malta, after which it is suspected of having delivered fuel to Northern Cyprus.

The findings by Global Fishing Watch, which were also independently verified by The Financial Times this week, were revealed just as speculation was rife that Russia had created a shadow fleet of more than 100 tankers to transport crude oil.

The measures came into effect on Monday, and Russia has been seeking ways to circumvent an EU ban on seaborne oil imports and a G7-led initiative to impose a price cap on Russian crude shipped elsewhere.

According to the findings, the tanker first visited an offshore mooring near Malta, where it stayed between May and July and then called at the Teknecik power plant in Northern Cyprus in August.

GFW, which tracks clandestine shipping practices to safeguard global fisheries, discovered that the 138-metre refined-fuel tanker made two trips using position-concealing methods created and favoured by Venezuela and Iran, both of which have been banned from exporting their oil products.

It was found that in both cases, the tanker had given bogus positions through its Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponder to show it was sailing around in circles in Greek waters when, in reality, it was moored near Malta and at the Northern Cypriot power plant.

GFW also discovered that when the ship claimed to have been off Greece, its signals were being picked up by telecommunications satellites over different parts of the Mediterranean. But GFW used European Space Agency imagery to prove the Kapitan Schemilkin, which is Russian-flagged, was not where it was claiming to be.

The ship’s AIS track shows two distinct false locations, in red, between 28 May and 12 July and from 16 and 21 August. The likely real locations, in yellow, show it was at the Malta Outer Port Limit and the Teknecik power plant in Northern Cyprus. Credit: Spire/Global Fishing Watch

It cited a vessel of the same size not broadcasting a position having been sighted off Malta and then in Northern Cyprus in photos taken by Earth imaging company Planet Labs.

According to SkyTruth, which worked on the project with GFW, the tanker continued to broadcast its real destinations of Malta and Northern Cyprus and estimated times of arrival while simultaneously broadcasting false coordinate positions.

The tanker, however, was seen with satellite imagery for weeks at an anchorage offshore Malta, after which it carried out a “likely fuel delivery on 19 and 20 August at the Teknecik Power Plant in Northern Cyprus”.

It also notes that the sighting in Cyprus “occurred at a time of alleged irregularities and manipulation related to persistent power outages and the renewal of a contract for supplying the power plant”.

GFW’s work on spoofing techniques was funded by the Defence Innovation Unit within the US Department of Defence as part of a programme to determine weaknesses in satellite navigation and monitoring systems.

The ship in question is owned by the Rostov-based Rechmortrans, which, according to the FT, shares a director with a company on which the US imposed sanctions in 2021 after one of its tankers made two trips to Venezuela.


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1 month ago

Maybe somebody in Kastilja will confirm that the tanker was not in Maltese Waters.

1 month ago

Talking of ghosts.
Does Communist China have ghost police stations , monitoring and reporting on the Chinese that are in Malta? Is this the reason why China wanted a HUGE embassy? Have they done with many sub-offices around the island?
Italy is full of them , where there are Chinese communities .
We have a presence in EneMalta , so that China knows what is Malta doing and therefore what the EU is doing.

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