The US government took its biggest sanctions move against Russian shipping since the February invasion of Ukraine, blacklisting 69 vessels, seven shipping companies and a marine engineering firm.

The moves came as Washington, which had avoided taking direct sanctions against the sector, for the first time indicated that shipping is a key target in its effort to punish Moscow for its belligerence against its neighbour to the west.

“The GoR [government of Russia] leverages maritime shipping and other marine sector companies to advance its strategic aims, including by supporting the resupply of its troops and the continuation of its occupation of Crimea, and exploiting and exporting energy reserves,” the US State Department said on Sunday.

“This action serves as a warning to private Russian companies that those who support Putin’s war machine risk severe costs.”

In the weekend move, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (Ofac) added Oboronlogistika and three ro-ros controlled by the company to its list of specially designated nationals (SDNs), a blacklist of sanctioned people and entities.

The State Department described the firm as part of the Russian Ministry of Defense’s “military construction complex”, with a role as the sole provider of transportation services for cargo to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014.

Also targetted was shipping company SC South, a subsidiary of Oboronlogistika, and four of its vessels — a general cargo ship and three ro-ros.

Oboronlogistika’s phone rang unanswered when TradeWinds attempted to contact the company on Sunday.

Ofac also blacklisted Northern Shipping Co, better known as JSC NSC Arkhangelsk. Headquartered in Arkhangelsk, the company operates a fleet made up mostly of general cargo ships focused on trades linked to Russia’s north-west.

The agency added to the SDN list 27 of the company’s vessels: 21 general cargo ships, two dredgers, three hopper barges and a tug.

A Northern Shipping Co photo shows vessels travelling in the Arctic. The company has been sanctioned by the Biden administration. Photo: Northern Shipping Co

The US State Department said on Sunday that the operator performs services for Russia’s Ministry of Defense.

“JSC Northern Shipping Co’s vessels transport tanks and other military equipment for Russia’s military, and the company participates in and supports Russian military exercises,” the State Department said.

The company could not be immediately reached for comment for this story.

The US also targeted four other companies accused of transporting weapons for the Russian government.

Added to the SDN list were Transmorflot and 16 general cargo ships and ro-ros owned by the company, which is based in the Russian republic of Dagestan on the Caspian Sea.

And US officials targeted Moscow-based M Leasing, along with three ro-ros that it owns.

According to shipping database Equasis, all three of the lessor’s vessels operate in the fleet of Marine Trans Shipping, a firm based in Astrakhan in southern Russia that was also added to the SDN list alongside a tanker it controls.

US officials also blacklisted Arkhangelsk-based vessel operator Nord Project Transport Co and 15 of its bulkers, chemical tankers and general cargo ships.

Washington also slapped sanctions on OOO Fertoing, a maritime engineering company that carries out complex marine surveys, as well as navigational, hydrographic and underwater technical support for state-owned entities.

Efforts to reach Trasnsmofrlot, M Leasing, Marine Trans, Nord Project and Fertoing for this story were not successful.