The European Commission recently answered a parliamentary question regarding attempts by Russia to circumvent EU sanctions and sell its oil in the international market. On February 7, 2023, Carles Puigdemont i Casamajó (NI), Clara Ponsatí Obiols (NI), and Antoni Comín i Oliveres (NI) asked if Spain had informed the Commission of attempts to use its ports to circumvent EU sanctions and wondered what measures the Commission would take to ensure compliance with EU sanctions and ensure that Russian tankers will not use EU harbors to evade sanctions. According to the parliamentary question, Russian oil has continued to enter the international market in large quantities since the Commission started enforcing the embargo on Russian oil exports on December 5, 2022. The questioners further suggest that more than 100 shipments of Russian oil have been sent to EU ports using oil, gas and coal tankers from Europe with the capacity to hold almost 16 million deadweight tons, as well as 689 international fossil fuel shipments allegedly exported from Russian ports between December 5, 2022 and January 5, 2023. The questioners also propose that Ceuta, Spain is being used as an entropôt by small Aframax tankers that can carry up to 700,000 barrels of Russian crude oil from Russian ports such as Primorsk and Ust-Luga. When the tankers reportedly reach Ceuta, the cargo is transferred to larger Russian crude carriers with a 2 million barrel capacity and then shipped on to ports in Africa and Asia.
A similar parliamentary question was also posed on February 21, 2023 by Marco Zanni (ID), Susanna Ceccardi (ID), Anna Bofrisco (ID) after several newspapers reported that Russia was engaging in “opaque practices” that include the transfer crude oil from Russian ships off the coast of Ceuta, Spain and Kalamata, Greece so that it can be blended with crude oil from third countries and sold to these countries as a product of domestic origin.
On April 4, 2023, Ms McGuinness issued joint answer E-000368/2023 on behalf of the European Commission confirming that the import of Russian seaborne oil into the EU has been prohibited for crude oil since December 5, 2022 and petroleum products since February 5, 2023, in accordance with Council Regulation (EU) No 833/2014. The Commission also confirmed that the EU, in coordination with G7 partners, has implemented a price cap for third countries on the transport to Russian seaborne crude oil and related services on December 5, 2022 and on refined petroleum products such as diesel and fuel oil on February 5, 2023. In addition, the Commission reported that it was aware of Russian oil-related activities in the Strait of Gibraltar near Ceuta and the ship-to-ship transfers occurring in international waters. The Commission has also reportedly been closely monitoring efforts to hide the origin of oil via the use of multiple transfers at sea using ships that are masking their movements by turning off satellite trackers or transmitting fake coordinates. The Commission welcomed recent actions by certain Member States to prohibit port access to vessels engaged in suspicious activity and has been also working closely with national authorities, including port authorities, to address these circumvention risks. The Commission has also been reaching out to third countries, with the support of the recently appointed EU Sanctions Envoy, to raise awareness of the circumvention risks.