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An attack on an oil tanker in the Red Sea may be the first direct hit on the global dark fleet

MariTrace, 27 April 2024

Three more attacks in the past four days on commercial ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden are again focusing attention on risks to commercial shipping and the burden pf responsibility for freedom of navigation. On Friday, UKTMO reported that a merchant vessel had been targeted in an incident 15NM SW of Al Mokha, Yemen. USCENTCOM later reported that two vessels were involved in the incident. The target for Friday evening's attack appears to have been a tanker, ANDROMEDA STAR, which sustained some damage, while another tanker MAISHA, was in the vicinity of the missile strike. Both vessels were reported to have continued their journeys with no injuries to their crew.

Friday's missile strike on tanker ANDROMEDA STAR occurred 15NM SW of Al Mokha, Yemen. Source: MariTrace.

While the attacks on 24 and 25 April appear to have been targeted at ships linked with US operations in the region, Friday's attack appears to have struck one of the global 'dark fleet' of vessels, which are now thought to number more than a thousand, many of which do not have insurance. Commodity analysts believe at least 400 of these could be hauling crude oil - equivalent to at least 10% of the global tanker fleet.

ANDROMEDA STAR departed Primorsk, Russia, on 4 April at 02:54 UTC and is thought to be heading for Vadinar, India, arriving on 2 May. The 250m long, 115,605 DWT tanker was built in 2009 and has operated under four different flags since first commissioned. Her track record became opaque after January 2021. ANDROMEDA STAR is believed to have been sold in November 2023, with some records for the vessel suggesting the current owner is a Seychelles-incorporated entity, which IMO lists as Algae Marine Inc.. However, the Seychelles Government record carries no match for this entity (with the only match in public records being a Florida-based entity that was incorporated in 1976 and dissolved two years later). ANDROMEDA STAR has been managed by a Goa-based company, Margao Marine Solutions OPC, since 24 November 2023. Margao was incorporated in India on 19 September 2022 and lists just one company officer. Margao operates two other ageing tankers, CORDELIA MOON - currently en route from Jamnagar, India to Kavkaz oil terminal in the Black Sea - and PANTA REI I - currently at anchor near Suez, having departed Ust-Luga, Russia, in the Gulf of Finland on 22 March. Port call data for all three tankers is consistent with the active movement of oil products from Russia to India.

Ageing tanker ANDROMEDA STAR collided with cargo vessel PEACE nea Copenhagen on 2 MArch 2024. Source: MariTrace.

Friday's incident is not ANDROMEDA STAR's first. Last month, Danish Maritime Authorities had reported that ANDROMEDA STAR collided with a dry cargo vessel, PEACE, near Copenhagen on 2 March. Fortunately, the ageing tanker had been carrying only ballast at the time of the accident. PEACE continued north shortly after the incident, while ANDROMEDA STAR was inspected at Lindø Havn, Denmark on 20 March under a standard port state control (PSC) inspection and found to have structural deficiencies, noted as "hull damage impairing seaworthiness". The tanker was reportedly moved to an anchorage near a ship repair yard in Odense, Denmark. The incident generated concern in the shipping industry when it was found that the tanker may have been operating without valid insurance. AIS data suggests ANDROMEDA STAR continued on 26 March to Primorsk, close to Russia's border with Finland, from where she departed on 2 April on her current course.

In addition to the ongoing risks for merchant crew working aboard ships that transit the high risk area, Friday's incident also highlights the very real environmental risks for fragile marine ecosystems in the Red Sea.

No AI was used in the writing of this article. MariTrace analysis and reporting is based on open sources; all information is human-curated and assessed via multi-phase, structured methods using industry-standard techniques to check for provenance, bias and accuracy.

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