How Russia legalizes in MarineTraffic the theft of Ukrainian ships

Marine Traffic, the popular online service to track ship traffic, indicates in its database that the State Unitary Enterprise «Chernomorneftegaz» illegally created by Russia owns ships of the «Chornomornaftogaz» fleet stolen from Ukraine. It also gives their illegally changed names and the flag. This data fully contradicts the register of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in which Ukraine is indicated as the owner of ships.

The Center for Journalist Investigations addressed the owner of Marine Traffic. The company promptly corrected part of the information. Thus, we created a precedent when false information about the ownership of Ukrainian assets stolen by Russia was changed at this useful web resource. However, we made only the first step – a lot of work is ahead.

Jack up drilling rig «Petro Godovanets» (renamed by the Russian to MODU CRIMEA 2) at the Odessa gas deposit, September 7, 2017. Photo by dpsu.gov.ua

After illegal seizure of the technological fleet of the State Joint Stock Company «Chornomornaftogaz» in Crimea, Russia tries to change information about the owner of stolen assets in popular maritime online services to the Russian State Unitary Enterprise «Chernomorneftegaz». This company was the first legal entity sanctioned by the USA and EU in April 2014 in response to the illegal annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation.

Russian attempts focus on new jack up drilling rigs «Ukraine» and «Petro Godovanets» (known as «Boiko rigs» in Ukraine), tugboats «Fedir Urupin» and «Cape Tarkhankut» acquired by the National Joint Stock Company «Naftogaz of Ukraine» in 2012.

Jack up drilling rigs «Ukraine» and «Petro Godovanets», 2012. Photo: marinetraffic.com, © Sertan Pehlevan, © Steel_rat

The fleet of «Chornomornaftogaz» seized in 2014 included 31 ships (together with above mentioned rigs and tugboats).

After the occupation of Crimea, «Chornomornaftogaz» lost control over its assets on the peninsula and – lost all original documents about ownership rights, including rights to its ships. The company had to restore them, in order to prevent registering ships by the fake enterprise set up within Russian jurisdiction. 

«Chornomornaftogaz» addressed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine with the request to use its diplomatic means and prevent changing IMO codes. Each ship has the unique IMO code. The Ministry reacted quickly and addressed the secretariat of IHS Maritime. The latter confirmed that those were the Ukrainian ships and that the Russian Federation could not change any data about ships», as Svitlana Nezhnova, the General Director of the State Joint Stock Company «Chornomornaftogaz» told the Center for Journalist Investigations.

Svitlana Nezhnova, the General Director of the State Joint Stock Company «Chornomornaftogaz». Photo: IPC-Henichesk

As of October 2021, Marine Traffic, the popular online service to track ship traffic, indicated that the jack up drilling rig «Ukraine» stolen by Russia had the Russian flag and was renamed to MODU CRIMEA 1. The field with information about the ship owner was left empty.

Screenshot of marinetraffic from 07.10.2021 (cut)

The following data was given about jack up drilling rig «Petro Godovanets«: the name – MODU CRIMEA 2 (illegally renamed by Russia), the flag – the Russian Federation, the ship owner – the Russian company State Unitary Enterprise «Chernomorneftegaz» illegally created on the basis of stolen Ukrainian assets.

Знімок екрану marinetraffic від 07.10.2021 (обрізано)

In accordance with marinetraffic database, tugboats «Fedir Urupin« and «Cape Tarkhankut« had Russian flags but belonged to the Ukrainian State Joint Stock Company «Chornomornaftogaz».

Screenshot of marinetraffic from 04.11.2021 (cut)

Tugboats «Fedir Urupin» and «Cape Tarkhankut» 2012. Photo: marinetraffic.com © Steel_rat

MarineTraffic is the commercial and partially volunteer service using information submitted by ship owners whereas the traffic of ships is transmitted by AIS installed on ships.

International Maritime Organization is a specialized agency of the Organization of United Nations for regulating shipping. Its Register contains the official information and assigns unique codes to ships and ship owners. In accordance with IMO Register, all above mentioned rigs and tugboats have the Ukrainian flag and one Ukrainian owner – the State Joint Stock Company «Chornomornaftogaz».

MarineTraffic offices are located in UK, Greece and Singapore. The company was founded by Dimitris Lekkas. He owned the share of Exmile Solutions registered in London until December 5, 2019. Currently, the full control over MarineTraffic is exercised by company «Aenor Ltd« registered in Cyprus. It is managed by Antigonus Georgiev.

Dimitris Lekkas (to the right) Photo: marinetraffic.com

The database is administered by Marinetraffic Operations Information Technology s.a. registered in Athens, Greece. Dimitrios Memos is the company managing director.

The Center for Journalist Investigations addressed MarineTraffic with IMO information about owners and names of Ukrainian jack up drilling rigs and tugboats seized by the Russian Federation. We asked the company: how does the online service usually check the data about name, flag and owner of any given ship? Will the service present the IMO data about above mentioned Ukrainian rigs and ships? We also informed that Russian «Chernomorneftegaz» is sanctioned by the EU and USA. We asked whether the MarineTraffic concluded any agreements or conducted any transactions with this Russian company?

We received the letter from MarineTraffic signed by Fotini Tseroni, content writer of the company. As she wrote, the commercial database information is based only on AIS communication transferred by ships. In the case of «Chornomornaftogaz» ships, their names, flags and identifiers were transferred by AIS installed on ships:

«Information represented by MarineTraffic.com is based on AIS communication transferred by ships themselves. Information about ships, ports etc is taken from AIS, open source of data. It is used to guarantee the security, visibility and awareness about the situation in the maritime world. In the case with mentioned ships, they transmitted their data about name, flag and identifiers (MMSI number, callsigns) through AIS. In MarineTraffic, we use various processes and instruments to support high quality database. We keep improving our measures to guarantee the quality and security».

Fotini Tseroni Photo: facebook.com/MarineTraffic

The company also informed that they avoided cooperating with persons under sanctions.

Though the letter of MarineTraffic did not contain any promises about correcting the data about ships of «Chornomornaftogaz», the online service promptly changed the information about the owner of jack up drilling rigs «Petro Godovanets» and «Ukraine». Now the Ukrainian State Joint Stock Company «Chornomornaftogaz» is indicated by MarineTraffic as the owner of rigs and tugboats «Fedir Urupin» and «Cape Tarkhankut».

However, the service still contains illegal names of rigs – MODU CRIMEA 1 and MODU CRIMEA 2. It also informs that names of tugboats are given in accordance with AIS reports (though, their names were not changed after the seizure).

Screenshot of marinetraffic from 04.11.2021 (cut)

What is more important is that rigs and tugboats have the Russian flag, in accordance with the MarineTraffic database. They have the Ukrainian flag in the IMO register. 

It should be emphasized that article 92 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea stipulates that «ships shall sail under the flag of one State only and, save in exceptional cases expressly provided for in international treaties or in this Convention, shall be subject to its exclusive jurisdiction on the high seas. A ship may not change its flag during a voyage or while in a port of call, save in the case of a real transfer of ownership or change of registry».

Thus, the MarineTraffic database provides false information when it indicates that above-mentioned ships have the Russian flag because only their ship owner – Ukrainian State Joint Stock Company «Chornomornaftogaz» – can change the flag of its ships.

Інформаційна агенція “Центр журналістських розслідувань”
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