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Gabon Emerges as Fastest-Growing Shipping Registry Amid Sovcomflot's Reflagging Operation

Gabon emerges as the fastest-growing shipping registry due to a large-scale reflagging operation by Sovcomflot, Russia's leading shipping company. The move signifies a shift in global maritime dynamics.

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Emmanuel Abara Benson
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Gabon Emerges as Fastest-Growing Shipping Registry Amid Sovcomflot's Reflagging Operation

In what can be marked as a significant shift in global maritime dynamics, Gabon, a small Central African nation, has emerged as the fastest-growing shipping registry. A large-scale reflagging operation by Sovcomflot, Russia's leading shipping company, has catapulted Gabon's shipping registry to a staggering growth rate of 130.6%, as per Clarksons Research. This growth, attributed to the aftermath of Russia's invasion of Ukraine nearly two years ago, underscores the evolving landscape of global shipping and the rise of the so-called 'dark fleet.'

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Reflagging Operation: A Closer Look

The term 'dark fleet' refers to vessels that operate under the radar, often skirting sanctions or other legal restrictions. The Gabonese flag, characterized by its green, yellow, and blue horizontal bands, has become a beacon for Sovcomflot tankers that once sailed under the Liberian flag. As of January 11, 46 tankers have been reflagged to Gabon, with more expected to follow suit. This shift away from the Liberian and Marshall Islands registries, which fall under the scrutinizing gaze of the U.S Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), is indicative of the changing tides in the maritime sector.

Dark Fleet: The Grey Area of Shipping

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The incident involving Pablo, an uninsured Aframax tanker that exploded in Malaysian waters, serves as a grim reminder of the potential hazards associated with the dark tanker fleet. Brokerage BRS's data indicates that the grey fleet, operating within a semi-legal status, accounts for 7.4% of the total global tanker fleet. This 'shadow' fleet encompasses a total of 675 tankers, shedding light on a murky area of the shipping industry.

The Implications of the Shift

The reflagging operation conducted by Sovcomflot and the subsequent rise of Gabon as a haven for the dark fleet has broader implications. The diversion of more ships away from the Red Sea, despite the additional fuel costs, points to this change. With the growth in activity, Gabon could potentially attract more investors in ports, terminals, and other infrastructure projects, thereby influencing the global shipping landscape significantly.

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