Would-be sanctions busters are creating false identities for ships, posing fresh problems for shipping companies.
Speaking at the Connecticut Maritime Association's annual conference in Stamford on Thursday, American Club executive Dan Tadros said entities looking to evade strict US sanctions are creating false identities for ships.
That includes new names, International Maritime Organization numbers and physical characteristics including length and deadweight tonnage.
“All of a sudden," the protection and indemnity club's chief legal officer said, "it appears to be clean.”
Sometimes those new identities are given to ships already blacklisted. Other times, they are given to unsanctioned ships and the unsanctioned ship's identity is given to the sanctioned ship, with more fake documents created and the ship altered physically.
"I can't tell you as a P&I club how difficult it is for us to pierce through all of this — the fake documentation, the changing of names, the painting of names on the vessels — to figure out that all of the sudden we have a vessel entered with us and it’s a fake vessel," Tadros said.
"Without evidence, there’s no way we would know that a sanctioned vessel now appears clean."
Over the past two years, the US has pushed the shipping industry to do more due diligence on its counterparties issuing advisories in 2019 and 2020 listing initiatives it expects companies to undertake to ensure sanctions compliance.
It has also pushed the constant use of automatic identification system (AIS) beacons to track ships and their whereabouts as its economic pressure on regimes like Iran and Venezuela intensified.
But sanctions evaders continue to come up with ways to get around that, such as manipulating AIS data, much of which is inputted manually, and in some cases spoofing data to make ships appear to be in places they are not.
Earlier this week, Skuld issued an advisory warning shipowners to be careful when doing ship-to-ship transfers in Malaysia, Africa and the Caribbean as both Iran and Venezuela have increased oil exports in recent weeks and months.