(Montel) There is convincing evidence that a cargo of Russia-origin coal may have been exported to Spain, thereby undermining an ongoing embargo on Russian coal imports imposed last summer, according to a Montel investigation.
However, according to vessel tracking data, provided by dry bulk vessel tracking firm DBX, the cargo was initially loaded at the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiysk on 6 April.
Although it anchored at Istanbul on 13-14 April for 16 hours en route to Spain, DBX data showed the vessel draft was unchanged throughout this stoppage, meaning no cargo was discharged or reloaded.
A coal-trading source close to the situation, who asked to remain anonymous, also noted Istanbul port does not handle coal.
He said the vessel had instead been carrying anthracite originating from the Russian port.
Anthracite is the highest-grade of coal and is primarily used as a domestic heating fuel or in metallurgy, as opposed to thermal coal, which is mainly used in power generation and cement production.
“What we can be sure of is that this is definitely not Turkish material, so they tried to hide the loading at Novorossiysk [by stopping at Istanbul],” said a source at a coal-trading firm, who also requested anonymity.
“I haven’t heard of any company using Istanbul port to load coal cargoes,” said a trader with one of Turkey’s largest coal exporters.
Sources pointed to the involvement of two European trading firms, which Montel chose not to name.
A source at Spain’s energy ministry suggested the cargo had originated from Tajikistan, in Central Asia.
But market sources considered this unlikely due to the considerable distance between the country and Novorossiysk and insufficient production of such quality coal.
“Just the railing or truck costs must be close to USD 100/t, as a minimum,” said one industry contact, and others echoed his opinion.
Latest Eurostat data – until December last year – showed no coal had been exported from Tajikistan to EU countries since at least 2020, when the data began.
Montel previously uncovered evidence of Russian exporters falsifying documents for exports of biomass, to show Turkey or several Central Asian nations as the origin in order to bypass the EU embargo.
Spanish authorities had carried out verifications to prove that the origin of the coal was not affected by sanctions, a spokesperson from the Spanish tax and customs office told Montel.
But the authority was not allowed to share additional information due to confidentiality, it added.
The vessel left Gijon late on Wednesday and is currently heading to Saint Petersburg, in Russia, ship tracking data showed.
Ban on Russian coal
There has been an EU-wide ban on Russian coal imports since August last year, in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The port of Gijon, located in northern Spain, is one of the country’s few remaining coal-import hubs.
ArcelorMittal operates a steelmaking plant consuming coal near Gijon, but there was no suggestion that the firm owned the cargo, and a spokesperson denied involvement.
He said ArcelorMittal had not purchased any Russian coal since spring last year and that the material may have been discharged for reloading to another destination.