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A Tanker’s Giant U-Turn Reveals Strains in the Market for Russian Oil

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Much of that demand is expected to come from Asia. India’s purchases of Russian oil, in particular, has jumped more than 700 percent in the five weeks since the start of the war in Ukraine compared to the previous five weeks, according to data from the Russian Tanker Tracking Group.

As shipments to Asia have risen, Europe has shown a desire to cut purchases of Russian crude, said Reid L’Anson, senior commodity economist at Kpler, said in an email.

Tracking the drifting oil tankers at sea was important to start figuring out the new picture for Russian oil exports, he said. While it wasn’t necessarily out of the ordinary to have some tankers with unknown destinations, “given the situation in Russia, tracking these flows will be critical,” he said. “I’m going to be very interested to see just how much Asia fills the gap left by European buying,” he added.

Part of the West’s shift away from Russian oil has come on the heels of growing public pressure.

When the Minerva Virgo, a 50,000-ton Croatia-flagged tanker carrying Russian petrochemicals, docked in New York last week, the environmental group Greenpeace staged a protest in the harbor, with activists in rubber boats holding up signs that read “Oil Fuels War.”

(Several days later, a smaller tanker carrying Russian chemicals also headed for New York, the Vinjerac, changed its destination to “Drifting” a short distance from the shore and has not docked.)

In the United Kingdom, dockworkers at the Birkenhead Docks in northwest England earlier this month refused to unload a German-flagged tanker. Workers would “under no circumstances unload any Russian oil,” a local union leader told Sky News. The United Kingdom has banned Russian tankers from British ports but the order doesn’t apply to vessels from other countries carrying Russian oil.

In response to the invasion, major oil companies have said they are stepping away from their investments in Russia. Companies like BP, Shell, TotalEnergies and Exxon Mobil have all said they would not sign new oil contracts with Russia.

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