Greek officials pursue smugglers after suspect oil tanker leaks in Rhodes

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The entrance to the iconic inner harbor of Rhodes (Pixabay)

Posted on January 20, 2022 at 2:56 PM by

The Maritime Executive

Greek customs authorities are investigating a shipowner and a fuel trading company after a suspected smuggling vessel fled custody and fled to Turkey.

According to Greek customs authorities, the 1,200 dwt tanker Eirini 1 was engaged in smuggling oil out of Libya. They allege that from November 22 to 24, Eirini 1 headed for the port of Zuwara, Libya and filled her tanks with an illicit cargo of oil, then departed for Rhodes.

The Eirini’s AIS signal disappeared at an anchorage off Malta on November 20 and reappeared en route south of Crete on November 29, according to Pole Star AIS satellite data. She then headed for Rhodes. Officials said her captain listed the reason for her port call as a spare parts stop.

Acting on a confidential tip, customs officers inspected the vessel. They found that her cargo tanks were overfilled and her ballast and bunker tanks were also loaded with oil. The captain allegedly presented documents suggesting that the oil cargo had been loaded during an STS transfer with the tanker Anouket Sapphire – but the AIS data shows that Sapphire has been in South America since last March.

Based on the inconsistencies found on board, Greek officials arrested Eirini 1 at an anchorage off Rhodes. However, the ship did not stay where it was ordered: according to local media, it weighed anchor and left for Turkey with its AIS switched off on the night of December 8. A Hellenic Coastguard vessel attempted to arrest him but was unsuccessful.

the from Eirini AIS reappeared in Antalya, Turkey on January 2. She departed on January 5, disappearing from the AIS intermittently for days before arriving off Malta on January 15. As of 20 January, she remained at an anchorage she had previously frequented, one nautical mile beyond the limit of Malta’s territorial waters.

An Interpol request for the vessel’s arrest was issued and Greek intelligence agencies were informed. Greek investigators have linked the vessel to a fuel trader based in Lasithi, on the eastern end of the island of Crete, and suspect an international fuel smuggling ring is involved.

The built in 1991 Eirini 1 was inspected by Port State Control in Malta in January 2021, and she was held for a month while her operator rectified a list of serious safety issues. Inspectors found 28 defects on board, including outdated life rafts, faulty alarm systems, a broken oily water separator, severe hull damage and corrosion, and an inoperable compass. The ship was also missing much of the documentation required for a merchant ship, including a muster list and proper navigational charts, according to its Equasis file.

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