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How Russia Legitimises Theft of Ukrainian Ships on MarineTraffic

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The database of MarineTraffic, a popular online service for vessel tracking, indicates that the vessels of the Chornomornaftogaz fleet stolen from Ukraine belong to the SUE Chernomorneftegaz, which was illegally created by Russia. These data run counter the register of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which clearly states that the vessels are Ukrainian.

The Investigative Journalism Centre addressed the company – the owner of MarineTraffic.com resource – that responded to our request and corrected some of the information promptly. Therefore, we have a precedent for the removal of unreliable information on the ownership of Ukrainian assets stolen by Russia on this popular and useful resource. But this is only the first step as much work is still ahead.

Having illegally seized the technological fleet of the National Joint Stock Company Chornomornaftogaz in Crimea, Russia tries to replace the information about the owner of stolen vessels on popular marine online services with the illegally established enterprise SUE Chernomorneftegaz. This enterprise became the first legal entity sanctioned by the US and EU over Russia’s annexation of Crimea in April 2014.

Among them are the new, jack up drilling rigs “Ukraina” and “Petro Hodovanets,” popularly known as Boyko drilling rigs, which NJSC Naftogaz of Ukraine purchased in 2012 together with tugboats “Mys Tarkhankut” and “Fedor Uriupin.” Including these rigs, the Chornomornaftogaz fleet seized 31 vessels in 2014.

 Loss of documents

After the beginning of the occupation of Crimea, Chornomornaftogaz not only lost control over its assets on the peninsula, but all documents proving ownership, including vessels, remained in the company’s office. Therefore, they had to be renewed in order to prevent the re-registration of ships to a fake company registered in the Russian jurisdiction.

“Chornomornaftogaz appealed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to prevent changing the IMO codes – unique ID number of vessel – through diplomatic channels. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs worked quite actively on this issue, appealed to IHS Maritime, the secretariat of this organisation, which took note that these are ships of Ukraine and the Russian Federation cannot change any data about these ships,” Svitlana Nezhnova, Chairperson of the Board of NJSC Chornomornaftogaz, told the Investigative Journalism Centre.

As of October 2021, MarineTraffic, a popular online service for vessel tracking, indicated that the jack up drilling rig “Ukraina,” stolen by Russia, was renamed to “MODU CRIMEA 1” and flies the Russian flag, while the field with information about the ship owner was blank.

The drilling rig “Petro Hodovanets” was indicated in the MarineTraffic database under the name given by the occupiers – “MODU CRIMEA 2”. It was said that the rig flies the Russian flag and is owned by the SUE Chernomorneftegaz, a Russian company illegally created on the basis of stolen Ukrainian assets.

Tugboats “Fedor Uriupin” and “Mys Tarkhankut” also, according to the MarineTraffic database, fly Russian flags, but the owner of the vessels is the Ukrainian NJSC Chornomornaftogaz.

MarineTraffic is a commercial and partly volunteer service that uses information provided by shipowners, whereas the traffic of vessels is tracked by AIS installed on them.

The International Maritime Organisation is a specialised agency of the United Nations, the register of which contains official information and which grants unique codes to ships and shipowners. All the above vessels, according to the IMO database, have a Ukrainian owner – NJSC Chornomornaftogaz – and fly the Ukrainian flag.

MarineTraffic has offices in the United Kingdom, Greece, and Singapore. The founder of the company is Dimitris Lekkas, who owned a stake in London-registered Exmile Solutions until 5 December 2019. The Cypriot company Aenor Ltd, registered in Cyprus and headed by Antigon Georgiev, now has full control.

The database is directly administered by Marinetraffic Operations Information Technology s.a., registered in Athens, Greece. The Executive Director is Dimitrios Memos.

Help of journalists

The Investigative Journalism Centre contacted MarineTraffic for information about owners and names of the Ukrainian drilling rigs and tugboats seized by the Russian Federation, according to the IMO database. We asked the company: how does the service usually verify the accuracy of the name, flag, and vessel owner and will they bring the data on these vessels in line with IMO data? We also reported that the Russian SUE Chernomorneftegaz is sanctioned by the EU and US and wondered whether any agreements or transactions had been concluded with it.

The letter signed by Fotini Tseroni, content writer at MarineTraffic, said that the information provided in the commercial database is based solely on AIS communication from the vessels. In the case of the indicated Chornomornaftogaz’s vessels, the name, the flag, the owners, Tseroni said, were transmitted through AIS.

The letter ad verbum:,

“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 the 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 a high quality database. We keep improving our measures to guarantee the quality and security.”

The company also said it avoids cooperation with persons subject to sanctions.

Although MarineTraffic did not inform in the letter whether any action will be taken to ensure the accuracy of the data on Chornomornaftogaz vessels, the service promptly changed the data on the owner of “Petro Hodovanets” and “Ukraina” drilling rigs. Now, the National Joint Stock Company Chornomornaftogaz is indicated by MarineTraffic as the owner of jack up drilling rigs and tugboats “Fedor Uriupin” and “Mys Tarkhankut.”

However, illegal names of the rigs are still indicated – MODU CRIMEA 1 and MODU CRIMEA 2. It is noted that names of tugboats are given in accordance with AIS reports (though their names were not changed).

The jack up drilling rigs and tugboats on MarineTraffic still list Russian flag, while having Ukrainian flag in the IMO database. According to Article 92 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea of ​​1982, a vessel shall sail under the flag of one State only and shall be subject to its exclusive jurisdiction on the high seas. A vessel may not change its flag during a voyage or while in a port of call, except in the case of a real transfer of ownership or change of registry.

Therefore, MarineTraffic database displays false information when it indicates that the abovementioned vessels have the Russian flag as only the ship owner – Ukrainian NJSC Chornomornaftogaz – can change the flag of vessels.

Source: Investigative Journalism Centre

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