Turkish terminal helping disguised Russian oil enter Europe

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London, Feb. 1, 2024 – Nestled among the orange groves of Turkey’s southern coast stands an unlikely staging post for Moscow’s energy sales, a site from where disguised Russian fuels are shipped to European buyers — and allegedly even the US military.

For most of its existence, the Dörtyol terminal, based in the Hatay province devastated in last year’s earthquake, had been a relatively sleepy business, focused on exporting Iraqi crude that arrived at the facility by truck.

But after Russia’s full-blown invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, that all changed. Between March and June the terminal received just three shipments of oil by sea, from Israel, Egypt and Greece, according to ship tracking data from Kpler. 

Then from July of that year, as the first western restrictions on Russian trade began to take effect, seaborne oil deliveries to Dörtyol soared, the data shows — underlining how Vladimir Putin’s war has redrawn global energy flows, creating opportunities for countries and companies still able to trade with Moscow.

Most of the oil arriving at the terminal by sea is refined fuel from Russia and much of that has then been shipped to Europe, in contravention of EU sanctions, experts who have reviewed the data said.

US senators have even raised concerns that “masked Russian oil” from Dörtyol, processed into fuel at a Greek refinery it supplies, ended up in US warships.

“The mazelike path of the oil from terminals in Russia to the US fleet is almost certainly done intentionally by Russia to evade sanctions,” said US senators Marco Rubio and Maggie Hassan in a letter to the defence secretary.

The US military purchases were first reported by the Washington Post.

In the EU, the importation of refined Russian oil has been banned since February last year, and crude oil since the previous December.

But the trade patterns in and out of Dörtyol show how refined products are able to enter the bloc regardless.

Global Terminal Services AS, the Istanbul-based owner of Dörtyol, said it acts as “an independent storage terminal” and has no involvement in trading.

The company said it had neither the “authority or responsibility” to monitor the final destination of oil moving through its facilities.

Dutch oil trader Niels Troost, who agreed to acquire a 40 per cent stake in GTS from its Turkish owners in July 2022, said he could not comment on the operations of the terminal because he had been a minority shareholder.

He formally exited the business in November 2023, returning the stake to GTS, a decision by Turkey’s Competition Board approving the transaction shows. Russian oil enters Turkey Since the EU and the G7 imposed curbs on Moscow’s oil trade, Turkey has become a key hub for Russian crude and refined products.

It is now the third-largest recipient of Russian crude after India and China, and the biggest market for Russian refined products.

In some cases, Turkey has been able to use imports of discounted Russian fuels, such as diesel, to meet domestic demand, while profitably exporting diesel produced in Turkish refineries to buyers in Europe.

In other cases, such as at Dörtyol, refined fuels from Russia appeared to have been shipped on to Europe without any significant transformation taking place, in violation of EU sanctions banning such imports.

The sprawling Dörtyol terminal, first built in 1984, sits on a hazy stretch of coastline dominated by energy and metals businesses, including Turkey’s biggest iron and steel plant.

Most of the oil arriving at Dörtyol terminal by sea is refined fuel from Russia, experts say.

The facility is criss-crossed with a maze of pipes and pumps, but has no capacity to refine fuels on site and does not import oil into Turkey.

Instead, it functions as a trans-shipment hub, storing oil that arrives at the facility by truck or by sea before it is shipped to buyers in other countries. Prior to the Ukraine war, it mainly functioned as an export terminal for Iraqi crude that arrived overland. This remains a key part of the GTS business.

In 2023, between January and November, Iraqi-origin products made up a little over half of the 3.2mn tonnes of oil shipped from the terminal, GTS said in December in a written response to questions.

The rest, approximately 10.5mn barrels (about 1.5mn tonnes), arrived by sea, and 9.2mn barrels of it, almost 90 per cent, originated in Russia, the Kpler shipping data showed.

“Historically Dörtyol was always a crude export terminal,” said Viktor Katona, an analyst at Kpler.

“You move to 2022 and it suddenly becomes everything.” Dörtyol has traditionally received a small amount of oil from Russia, but shipments ballooned after the start of the war.

Dörtyol received 583,870 barrels (about 87,000 tonnes) of Russian-origin oil by sea in 2021 and 3.7mn barrels (about 513,000 tonnes) in 2022, representing 38 per cent and 67 per cent of all seaborne cargoes unloaded at the terminal in those years, according to the Kpler shipping data. (Financial Times)

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