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Tanker with History of Transporting Iranian Oil Catches Fire off Malaysia, Adding to Concerns over Growing Dark Fleet
By Seaandcoast | 02/05/2023
In a concerning development, a tanker with a history of transporting Iranian oil has caught fire off the coast of Malaysia, underscoring the growing risks posed by the so-called "dark fleet" of vessels. The incident involved the 1997-built tanker, Pablo, which has changed ownership multiple times in recent years and is registered in Gabon. It was en route from China to the UAE when a blaze was detected, prompting a distress call. While Malaysian authorities managed to rescue 25 of the 28 crew members, three remain missing. 
The Pablo has been flagged by as having a history of transporting Iranian crude, which highlights the risk of the "dark fleet" operating in Southeast Asia waters. This region is a major crossroads for tanker trades, and many shadow vessels pass through its busy waters. In fact, last year, the Djibouti-registered Young Yong ran aground off the Riau Islands in Indonesia. The ship was under US sanctions for its alleged links to Iran.
The "dark fleet" now numbers over 600 ships and is a growing cause for concern. With Russia now joining Iran and Venezuela in seeking older ships to move their cargoes due to sanctions, there is an increased risk of substandard tonnage and accidents around the world. The tanker sector has worked hard to establish itself as the Rolls-Royce of the shipping industry, but the "dark fleet" and its associated risks threaten to undermine that reputation, according to respected shipping writer Michael Grey.