The so-called dark fleet of ships operating in trades under international sanctions will be around for years to come, marine underwriters were warned at the Shipping Risk Forum in London.

The emergence of the fleet — estimated to number as high as 600 ships — is the “predictable consequence” of governments using shipping services as a sanctions tool said NorthStandard head of external affairs Mike Salthouse.

He described the recent oil price cap on Russian exports imposed by the US, European Union and UK as the development of a new type of “smart sanctions”, which are “trying to regulate one of the most regularly traded commodities”.

Dominick Donald, senior advisor at consultancy Herminus, said sanctions will be a feature of international trade for years ahead — even after the Russia-Ukraine conflict ends.

“I cannot see a way in which the war ends without sanctions continuing,” he said, forecasting that sanctions against Russia could run for the next five to 10 years, whatever the outcome of the war.

Wikborg Rein senior partner Eleanor Midwinter said that the shipping industry is facing up to the consequences for the safety of a two-tier market.

“If you take sanctions too far, or put them together too hastily, you have a two-tier market where one is a race to the bottom, and the other is struggling to cope with the fallout,” she said.

She pointed out that, because of the stigma around ships, which have become associated with the dark fleet, some legitimate operators are being denied access to procuring high-quality ship parts and shipping services, to the detriment of safety.

Salthouse said some ships that are involved in “perfectly legal” operations are now being denied access to mainstream insurance and other shipping services.

The Shipping Risk Forum, organised by Maritime London, was held at the Lloyd’s of London. Photo: Lloyd’s handout photos

He said that the fragmentation of trade was not only being driven by sanctions but also corporate considerations, such as environmental social and governance policies which could also create further divisions.

“It is not just sanctions pushing us in this direction, some corporations can only do businesses with companies which share the same ESG goals or have the same mindset,” he said.

The Shipping Risk Forum, organised by Maritime London, was held at the Lloyd’s of London building as part of London International Shipping Week.