Grain Laundering Arises As Possible New Supply Chain Threat

New research from Windward reveals an increase of 160% in dark activity from bulk carriers in the Black Sea and the possibility of Russian grain laundering.

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Alex Stemmer/

Artificial intelligence technology from Windward focused on maritime activity provides analysis on the industry, identifying that Russia could potentially be laundering grain stolen from the Ukraine. Additionally, there was a 160% increase in dark activities in the Black Sea by bulk carriers flying either the Russian or Syrian flags when comparing July 2020-June 2021 to July 2021-June 2022. Of the events that happened between July 2021 and June 2022, 73% took place after the war began. While in the past, dark maritime activity focused on crude oil smuggling, it is now evolved to smuggle grains from Ukraine. These vessels go dark to load the grain and then either make a visible port call or a dark discharge of cargo in either Turkey or Syria. 

Per Windward

  • The shift in dark activities was not only noticeable for event location but also regarding vessel identity. Windward’s data indicates that in 2020-2021, there was a monthly average of 0.83 dark activities in the Black Sea by Russian or Syrian-flagged and owned bulk carriers. That number increased to a staggering monthly average of 2.25 dark activities in 2021-2022, with a boost in March 2022.
  • To obtain a deeper understanding of the dark activity trend, we looked at all general cargo and bulk carriers, regardless of their flag, from March 1, 2022 through July 15, 2022. Windward’s platform flagged a total of 170 events where cargo and bulk carrier vessels went dark in the Azov Sea and then resurfaced on their way out through the Bosporus Strait.
  • One hundred and fifty-six (156) of the events showed a similar pattern: vessels calling port with the allegedly smuggled grain while their AIS were turned on. Out of these visible port calls, 71% were in Turkey and 20% in Bulgaria. The remaining 14 events showcased a different pattern. Cargo and bulk carrier vessels went dark twice during their travels – once in the Azov Sea and again at their port of destination. In 85% of these identified events, the destination for the alleged smuggled grain was Syria. During the same timeframe last year (March-mid-July 2021), for comparison, Windward only identified one dark-to-dark activity (a vessel going dark to load the grain and then to discharge it). This type of behavior is emergent, meaning Windward expects to see the trend grow as the conflict continues.