China steps up safety checks on old ships

China steps up safety checks on old ships

A major port in China is stepping up checks on older ships, snarling some cargoes and highlighting concerns about the steady expansion of a fleet of aging ships ferrying Russian oil across the globe.

In recent weeks, at least two tankers that are over 20 years old spent almost a month waiting to makeshipments of crude into the world's biggest importer, including one from Russia, as the stricter checks in Shandong province hindershipments.

A database of inspections in Asia-Pacific region said the supertanker Titan was detained by the port of Qingdao for several fire-safety issues, including oil accumulation in its engine room. The vessel has been released and left Qingdao, according to tracking data. It is uncertain whether the Titan was able to unload its cargo in China.

Another old tanker that carries Russian oil, the Ocean Peri, has been waiting near the same port for almost a month.

Both ships have had difficulties unloading at Qingdao, as the local maritime authority is carrying out heightened safety scrutiny of foreign ships that are more than 15 years old, according to people familiar with the matter.

The ban on Russian oil has caused a surge in purchases of older tankers by unidentified buyers, many of whom would in years gone have often been candidates for the scrap heap. The arrival of ships is often determined by age when deciding which ones to inspect, potentially compromising those coming from Russia and other sanctioned regions such as Iran and Venezuela.

Inexperienced ship owners and operators are putting significant risks into the industry, which are often subject to less strict safety regulations and are registered in more relaxed regulatory environments. Insufficient documentation as well as inadequate safety checks at origin ports have raised the concern of Chinese maritime authorities, the people familiar with the scrutiny said. The media office of the Shandong Maritime Bureau did not reply, saying their calls were not answered.

If China had to insist on ships arriving at its ports having industry-standard insurance cover, Russian cargo would have to be bought at $60 a barrel or less to meet the Group-of- Seven price cap on the country's crude shipments. Vessels found to be in safety violations will be required to reapply for their certificates ahead of entering the port areas, and it remains uncertain how long that will take and how many older ships will be affected.

The Titan is flying under the flag of Cameroon and does not have such cover from the International Group of P&I ClubsGroup of P&I Clubs. Ocean Peri is owned by Palau and lacks industry-standard insurance.

China is resuming more robust maritime safety checks after Covid Zero's policy was dismantled, the people familiar with the checks said.

With assistance from Sherry Su and Alaric Nightingale.