In a strategic move that underscores Poland’s evolving oil import dynamics, the country’s major refiner, Orlen, has recently engaged in chartering tankers previously linked to Russian oil shipments. These vessels are now being utilized to transport Arab crude to Polish and Lithuanian refineries. This shift in strategy comes as Poland reduces its reliance on Russian oil and asserts its support for Ukraine in the ongoing conflict.
Shifting Tanker Alliances:
Orlen’s recent maneuver involves the chartering of approximately 10 tankers that were previously associated with Russian oil transport to Asia. By repurposing these tankers for Arab crude deliveries, Orlen is tapping into a cost-effective approach. The vessels are operated by non-Russian shipping firms, adhering to international sanctions. However, the shipments are governed by the price cap policy endorsed by the G7 economies. According to this policy, Western companies can transport and insure Russian oil and products as long as they are priced below $60 per barrel.
Poland’s Geopolitical Stance:
Amid mounting tensions, Poland ceased Russian oil purchases earlier this year. This move, coupled with a show of solidarity with Ukraine, has been characterized by a shift to alternative sources, including the Middle East and the North Sea. Orlen’s utilization of tankers previously linked to Russian oil endeavors is a direct result of the diminished demand for such ships, enabling more competitive shipping rates for the company.
Orlen’s approach allows for full tanker utilization, addressing the issue of “dead freight” often associated with the Russian oil trade. The company’s involvement in Arab crude imports ensures that these tankers return from their voyages loaded, rather than empty. This operational efficiency provides Orlen with cost-effective transportation solutions.
Official Stance and Scrutiny:
Orlen has clarified its position, asserting that it is not engaged in shipping Russian oil and diligently screens vessels to ensure compliance with sanctions. The company emphasizes that all activities, including crude oil deliveries, align with relevant sanctions. However, it refrains from commenting on specific commercial matters and collaborations with partners.
The trajectory of Russian oil shipments witnessed a notable shift due to the imposition of sanctions by the EU and G7. While initial sanctions led to surging shipping rates, subsequent adaptations by Russia—including vessel acquisitions and charters—have contributed to rate stabilization. Notably, Russian oil trade has pivoted toward Asian markets.
According to LSEG’s Eikon data, Orlen has chartered a fleet of vessels for the Middle East to Poland’s Gdansk and Lithuania’s Butinge oil deliveries. These tankers have also made calls at Russian Baltic ports. An illustrative instance involves the Aframax Nissos Serifos, which carried Urals crude from Russia’s Primorsk to India’s Mundra port and then proceeded to transport Arab Light crude from Saudi Arabia’s Sidi Kerir to Gdansk.
Key Players and Responses:
The vessels involved are under the management of Greek shipowners, including TMS Tankers and Kyklades Maritime. Despite requests for comments, these entities remained silent. Saudi Aramco, another key stakeholder, also declined to comment.
Continued Route and Impact:
Several vessels have traversed this route twice, transporting oil from Russia to India and then returning to Poland with Arab crude. This strategic approach underscores Orlen’s resilience and adaptability in navigating complex oil trade dynamics.