MUMBAI: An Indian agency has stepped in to provide safety certification for most of Gatik Ship Management’s fleet, a major carrier of Russian oil to India, after Lloyd’s Register and the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) withdrew classification for many of its vessels, records show.

Mumbai-based Gatik, which has emerged this year as a significant player in Russian oil transport, also recently reflagged at least four of its vessels to Mongolia, according to data from maritime platform Lloyd’s List Intelligence.

This followed the de-flagging of 36 of the Gatik-managed fleet by St. Kitts & Nevis International Ship Registry.

However, Indian Register of Shippping (IRClass) data showed six vessels being reflagged to Mongolia. Other Gatik ships were recently reflagged to Gabon.

Classification societies such as London-headquartered Lloyd’s Register (LR), ABS and IRClass provide services including seaworthiness checks, certification that is vital for securing insurance and entry to ports.

IRClass, which is recognised globally, did not respond to requests for comment.

As Western sanctions on Moscow’s energy trade tightened, Gatik suddenly stepped in with a fleet of tankers that has numbered more than 40, shipping data shows.

India, which does not recognise the sanctions, has quickly become the biggest buyer of seaborne Russian crude since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February last year.

The reflagging of vessels and changes of registry highlight the tightening oversight by Western service providers over supply of Russian oil, but also the limitations of such efforts given the ease with which ship owners

and operators can find new documentation to continue sailing.

While non-EU countries can import seaborne Russian crude, Western ship-owners and insurers are prohibited from handling such cargoes unless they are sold at or below $60 a barrel cap.

“As a US company, ABS strictly follows both the letter and the spirit of U.S. and other applicable sanctions. We are arranging the transfer out of class of all vessels formerly managed by Gatik,” a company spokesperson told Reuters.

The spokesperson added that 13 vessels were being dropped from ABS certification.

Gatik did not respond to requests for comment.

About three dozen Gatik ships have obtained certification from IRClass since mid-March, the IRClass data showed.

The IRClass data also indicated that most of these ships are managed by Indian firms including Gaurik Ship Management, Geras Ship Management, Caishan Ship Management, Galena Ship Management, Zidan Ship Management and Plutos Ship Management.

However, according to shipping database Equasis, the companies handle safety and environmental-related issues of the vessels while commercial operations are managed by Gatik.

Lloyd’s Register has said it will withdraw certification of 22 of Gatik’s vessels by June 3, Reuters has reported.

Major US ship insurer American Club also said previously it was no longer providing cover for Gatik ships, while Russian insurer Ingosstrakh said it would not work with Gatik in future.

Published in Dawn, May 31st, 2023

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