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Millions of barrels of Russian oil are being transported by an unidentified Indian business.

Over the past 18 months, it seems as though a giant of international oil shipping has appeared out of thin air from Mumbai's dilapidated Neptune Magnet Mall.

Millions of barrels of Russian oil are being transported by an unidentified Indian business.

The corporation, which was formerly an unknown Indian shipping company, has become one of the biggest shipowners in the world since Russia's invasion of Ukraine.


Only two chemical tankers were owned by Gatik Ship Management in 2021. According to maritime experts VesselsValue, by April it had bought a fleet of 58 boats with an estimated total value of $1.6 billion.


However, the company's history and ownership are obscure, and there are few corporate records. The group did not show up in India's official corporate registry despite having registered as an exporter in India on March 31 of this year.


One crucial red flag is the fact that Mumbai-registered company Buena Vista Shipping, a lesser-known operation that two years ago claimed assets of just over $100,000, and Gatik both share an address in the same shopping mall.


The oil market is baffled as to who actually owns Buena Vista Shipping and who provided the funding for Gatik's fleet to grow so quickly. However, commodity traders, analysts, and shipbrokers think Rosneft, the company's largest client, may be connected.


According to tanker tracking data, Gatik's recently purchased fleet has primarily been utilized to deliver oil from Russia, primarily to ports in India. The Indian conglomerate has shipped at least 83 million barrels of Russian crude and oil products, according to data from the analytics firm Kpler. This amount is sufficient to satisfy the whole UK oil demand for more than two months. Rosneft is responsible for more than half of that. The totals are thought to be even higher than those seen in Kpler's data collection.

According to Viktor Katona, head of crude analysis at Kpler, "it was inevitable after the west’s sanctions that the Russian oil companies would want to get into shipping and I think Gatik is the ultimate example of this happening."


"A company in a country that’s deemed friendly to the Russian state, pops up out of nowhere, buys a tremendous amount of tankers in less than a year, and is almost exclusively servicing Russian flows."


Global oil markets have undergone a significant transformation as a result of Western sanctions imposed on Russian oil shipments in reaction to Vladimir Putin's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The largest oil producer in Russia under the Kremlin's control, Rosneft, has been in the center of the crisis. As one of the Kremlin's most hawkish and hardline figures, Igor Sechin, its chief executive and a close Putin ally, has earned the nickname Darth Vader.


A number of restrictions have been placed on Russian petroleum by the EU, most recently a price cap on oil handled by European firms. Rosneft's two major customers, Trafigura and Vitol, terminated their contracts with the company last year. After the sanctions, New Delhi decided not to apply its own sanctions or adhere to the G7-imposed price cap, instead it chose to expand its imports of Russian oil.


Gatik was created within that setting. Gatik has acquired at least 56 boats since March 2022, according to tanker sales tracking service VesselsValue, including 13 tankers in December alone when the EU oil embargo started.


Gatik is now among the biggest tanker owners in the world, according to Rebecca Galanopoulos of VesselsValue. "To put this into perspective, out of almost 14,000 live tankers, the majority of these companies — 1,361 — own fewer than 10 live tankers; only 20 companies, including Gatik, own 50 or more."


Likewise, the vessels disappeared into the darkness. At least 35 of Gatik's ships had western insurance as recently as late March; compliance with the G7 price cap on Russian oil deliveries, which was imposed from last December, is a requirement for this insurance.


However, as of the beginning of April, none of Gatik's ships were covered by any of the reputable, major mutual insurers.


According to maritime records, the aging ships in Gatik's expanding fleet have previously traveled the globe carrying crude oil. They began to concentrate extensively on the Russia-India run once they were acquired by the Indian group.


Gatik, which means "speed" in Sanskrit, has contributed to one of the biggest changes in oil flow patterns in recent memory. Less than 1% of India's crude was supplied by Russia before the Ukraine War. Currently, it makes up about 30%, according to official trade statistics.


Millions of barrels of Russian oil, frequently provided at a greater discount than to other buyers, have benefited New Delhi in exchange for India not openly critcizing Moscow for the invasion.


According to research by the Kyiv School of Economics based on Russian oil sale records, India paid $48.03 per barrel for its oil during the first quarter of 2023, $10 less than other nations paid on average.


The majority of the so-called Urals crude that Russia previously delivered to the EU market has been consumed by India through similar agreements. According to three people with knowledge of the situation, certain Indian refineries have complained that the heavy Russian blend has been clogging outdated refinery machinery.


In response, Sechin of Rosneft negotiated an agreement in March with India's leading refiner, Indian Oil Corporation, to "diversify its blends" and significantly expand oil supplies to India. Due to its ownership of the Nayara refinery in Gujarat, Rosneft was the only Russian oil corporation with a foothold in India prior to the conflict, according to Kpler's Katona. He stated, "They already had a foot in the country and they understand how business is done."


Gatik and Rosneft have an uncertain relationship; Buena Vista, where a staff member claimed Gatik was "part of" the organization, declined to comment on the queries. However, it is obvious how close the two are.


According to Indian authorities involved in purchasing oil for their refineries, they did not use intermediaries while dealing with Rosneft; instead, they dealt directly with the company. Additionally, rather than the "Free On Board" basis Rosneft preferred prior to the war, where the buyer organized the shipping, the cargoes are now sold on a "cost, insurance, and freight" basis, meaning Rosneft is responsible for delivering the crude to the destination port in India.


Sechin is a well-to-do man who enjoys wine, hunting, and jazz. Because of his connections to the security services, he is feared greatly in Moscow. Sechin, a former army translator who is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese, has also turned Rosneft into a useful tool for Russia's international foreign policy. But the company's role as Russia's top oil exporter has been complicated by the sanctions imposed on it.


Rosneft relied on customers to transport its oil because it lacked a sizable fleet of its own at the start of the conflict. A person close to Rosneft said that the company launched a brief attempt to build tankers in 2014 with the Russian manufacturer Zveda, but the project made little progress in part because Rosneft never thought the west would risk upsetting global oil flows by restricting Russia's access to shipping.


Rosneft and other Russian producers, however, had to find new clients in addition to ships to transport the oil because of the sanctions and restrictions. A global "ghost fleet" of shady-owned ships that were ready to risk sanctions grew to serve this lucrative new market as the costs for carrying Russian oil increased.


Visits to the Indian companies' offices in Mumbai don't provide further details on Gatik and Buena Vista. Post addressed to the enigmatic company was stacked up on the floor at the former address for both businesses in the mall. The aptly named Neptune Magnet Mall serves as the headquarters for many shipping companies.


Gatik Ship Management registered as a merchant exporter with India's Directorate General of Foreign Trade on March 31 using the mall location of the abandoned office.


Buena Vista has moved to a brand-new, dazzling complex in one of the richer suburbs of the city that is situated near to a lake. Gatik was "part of" the group, an employee said, but he declined to elaborate. The insider claimed that management preferred to maintain a "low profile".


Requests for comment from Buena Vista were not addressed.


Umesh Suvarna Vasu and John Pinto Agnelo, two Indian citizens who are registered directors for Buena Vista, also run the business' office in Dubai. The corporation has been hiring for a number of positions over the past year, including chief cooks and oilers, according to nautical employment sites. People at the mall where Buena Vista's former office was located claimed that the business had been actively hiring prior to their move.


The ownership of the Marshall Islands-registered single-vessel firms that hold the registrations for all but two of Gatik's vessels is private.


However, Sechin talked about one of his favorite bands, the "magnificent" Cuban son orchestra, the Buena Vista Social Club, in a 2016 article about his love of jazz in Russian Pioneer magazine.


Whether by accident or design, one of Gatik's fleet's ships is known as the Buena Vista. Social Club Inc. is the name of the company's Marshall Islands-based registered owner.

By fLEXI tEAM


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