UAE bans Cameroon-flagged ships: Is this a clampdown on illegal activities of Russia’s ghost fleet?

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has banned vessels flying the flag of the Republic of Cameroon from calling UAE waters and ports.

Illustration. Courtesy of Port of Fujairah

On Januaury 2, 2024, the UAE Federal Maritime Administration (FMA), represented by the Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure, published a new circular.

In the circular, the FMA said it decided to include the vessels registered under the flag state of Cameroon to the existing list of restricted flag state vessels.

As informed, the Cameroon-flagged ships have no longer access to UAE ports and waters unless they are classed by a member of the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS) or by the Emirates Classification Society – Tasneef.

“Accordingly, all the maritime companies and ship agents in UAE are hereby requested not to provide the services to those vessels that are not complying with this circular to avoid legal accountability,” the FMA noted.

Apart from Cameroon, the concerned flag states countries list includes Albania, Belize, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Sao Tome and Principe, Tonga, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, and the United Republic of Tanzania.

The administration, which is responsible for regulating foreign ships’ operations in the UAE waters and ports, has not provided further information explaining the reason behind this decision. However, reports indicate that the ban may be linked to Cameroon’s reputation as a ‘heaven’ for Russia’s so-called ghost fleet.

There is a growing number of law-abiding ships in the world which have no insurance protection. Having no insurance becomes a problem when accidents involving these ghost ships occur, especially for countries controlling the waters where accidents take place.

Therefore, the UAE’s recent move can be seen as an attempt to distance itself from unfortunate and risky situations involving ghost ships.

Since the introduction of the G7 oil price cap for Russia’s crude oil and refined products there have been speculations on Russia’s so-called shadow fleet being used to evade sanctions. Last year, S&P Global Market Intelligence whitepaper estimated that 443 tanker vessels (with a deadweight greater than 10,000) are currently operating within the Russian shadow or ghost fleet. Cameroon is among the flag states linked to vessels’ illegal activities, according to the report.

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It is worth noting that the Paris MOU has identified Cameroon as a flag state with a ‘very high risk’, placing it on its Black List of ships. Vessels Haksa, Skymoon King, Gelibolu 2, Sefora, Sheksna, Bella are currently banned from the Paris Mou region, data provided by the Paris MoU shows.