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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EU Expels Russian Cargo as Tanker Fears Grow

APGreenpeace activists protesting late Sunday alongside the Byzantio in the Baltic Sea.
Spanish and Portugese navies expelled an aging oil tanker loaded with Russian oil from their waters over the weekend as concerns mounted over worn out vessels.

The 17-year-old Moskovsky Festival, laden with 25,000 tons of fuel oil, was intercepted Saturday by the Spanish navy and then on Sunday by the Portuguese navy and ordered away from the two countries' coastlines and into international waters, a spokesman for London-based Novoship U.K., which manages the vessel, said Monday.

Novoship declined to disclose the identity of the Moskovsky Festival's charterer, but oil brokers said the cargo was owned by LUKoil.

LUKoil declined to comment Monday.

The action heralded a tough new line against ships EU states suspect of being pollution risks. It came days after Spain and France vowed to expel such ships in the wake of the sinking of the 26-year-old Prestige, which broke up and sank in the Atlantic, spewing some of its 77,000-ton cargo of Russian fuel oil onto Spanish beaches. Another huge oil slick began washing up on the country's northwest coastline Monday.

The vessel was chartered by a Russian-owned trading company, Crown Resources, and embarked in its voyage from St. Petersburg.

Portugal and Italy also adopted the policy, which means they may perform spot checks on single-hull heavy fuel transporters older than 15 years and expel dangerous ships from their exclusive economic zones, which stretch 320 kilometers out to sea.

The 17-year-old Maltese-flagged Moskovsky Festival loaded in the Baltic port of Tallinn two weeks ago and followed exactly the same route as the Prestige.

Adding to the brouhaha on Monday, confusion surrounded the exact destination of another single-hulled vessel, the Byzantio, which environmentalists failed to prevent leaving an Estonian port after Dutch port authorities said it was no longer bound for Rotterdam.

The 26-year-old Byzantio like the Prestige was chartered by Crown Resources and has the same weak single-hulled design.

Aegean Shipping Management, the Greek managers of the 26-year-old ship carrying 53,000 tons of fuel oil, said Crown had not passed on its latest intentions for the vessel.

"It's under instructions from the charterer -- they have asked us to wait for instructions. Rotterdam is on hold. The tanker is passing the Danish coast at the moment," said Gerry Ventouris, Aegean's shipping manager.

France has positioned a navy patroller near Dunkirk to look out for the ship just in case. But Ventouris said he doubted he would receive orders from Crown Resources to send the ship through French or Spanish waters because of the political furore surrounding it. He said the Byzantio could also head for the Dutch port of Antwerp, or it could reach Rotterdam by Wednesday morning.

According to Lloyds Marine Intelligence Unit, the Byzantio is Greek-owned, flies a Maltese flag and was detained in Ireland for failing a port inspection earlier this year. But the ship's manager said the tanker had been certified by ship classification society Det Norske Veritas as being CAP 1, or Condition Assessment Program level 1, the highest level of seaworthiness.

"Wherever the ship goes to eventually, we will try to organize an inspection with the relevant authorities as well as the French and Spaniards, maybe even the media," Ventouris said.

European Union transport ministers will discuss maritime safety when they meet in Brussels on Thursday and Friday. Spain, France, Italy and Portugal will press their colleagues to take a hard line, but other countries such as Britain, Greece and Germany are cautious, EU diplomats said.

Documents obtained by Reuters show that ministers will consider accelerating a phase-out of older single-hull tankers and only allow the heaviest grades of fuels to be carried by double-hull vessels. (Reuters, MT)