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Politics / State-owned Russian tanker’s visit to Sullom Voe amid sanctions sends out ‘the wrong signals’

Call for tougher sanctions that would hit state-owned companies doing business in the UK

The route of the NS Challenger into Sullom Voe harbour. Screenshot from Marine Traffic

WITH sanctions against some Russian banks and three oligarchs announced on Tuesday, business with Russia appears to be continuing as usual, even in Shetland.

With the tanker NS Challenger approaching the port of Sullom Voe for a cargo of crude on Wednesday, the government in Moscow is set to make a profit on the charter.

The 244-metre tanker, registered in Liberia, belongs to the Russia’s largest shipping company, state-owned Sovcomflot, one of the global leaders in the transportation of oil and gas.

The tanker is a regular visitor to the council-run port and only took a cargo of crude to the Swedish port of Brefjorden last week.

Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael said the example illustrated the big holes in “Johnson’s sanctions regime”.

He acknowledged that under current rules the NS Challenger was doing “legitimate business” and added that this only demonstrated the weaknesses of what was announced yesterday.

“For a tanker that is operated by a company owned by the Russian state to continue to do business in the UK, it would appear that the government constructing their sanctions package have had a remarkable lack of curiosity.

“The Russians see the mismatch between rhetoric and actions, and with Putin, as it is with all these characters, it is always about the signals you are sending.

“Bluntly, ever since the invasion of Crimea in 2014 we have been sending the wrong signals because we made complaints at the time and then we carried on trading with them, gas in particular.

Calling for tougher sanctions against Russia Carmichael added: “The legitimate business is perhaps the low hanging fruit, and, yes, not to go after it would be foolish and dangerous.

“Russian money goes right through our system. We are good at creating hostile environments for the wrong people, but if you are a Russian oligarch the environment is far from hostile.”

Local net zero campaigner and Green candidate at the forthcoming council election Alex Armitage said the example demonstrated how “deeply ingrained” Russian money in UK business.

“Having a Russian tanker sitting here at Sullom Voe doing business that is not prohibited just shows that much strong measures are needed,” he said.

Shetland Islands Council said local government has no role in applying sanctions, and all decisions are made by the UK Government.

Council chief executive Maggie Sandison said: “I understand that the UK Government sanctions applied to date relate to five banks which have had their assets frozen, along with three Russian billionaires and there will be consideration of further sanctions by UK Government in due course.”

Sullom Voe Terminal operator EnQuest has been approached for comment but has so far not responded.