In their new report, Oil on the Water: Illicit hydrocarbons activity in the maritime domain, Global Energy Center Senior Fellow Dr. Ian Ralby and co-author Dr. David Soud of I.R. Consilium present an extensive though not exhaustive breakdown of the global illegal activity involving oil and fuel in the maritime domain, together with recommendations for how to address it.  This report builds on the research detailed in their previous reports, Downstream Oil Theft: Global modalities, trends, and remedies and Downstream Oil Theft: Implications and next steps.

The Issue: Oil and fuel theft in the maritime space constitutes billions of dollars of losses annually for governments and billions of dollars in criminal profits for corrupt individuals, reckless companies, transnational criminal organizations and terrorist groups.  Furthermore, it diminishes the security of seafarers, poses extreme risk to the marine environment, and subverts the rule of law.  

How Does It Work: The modalities of illicit activity include, for example:   

  • Piracy and armed robbery at sea
  • Smuggling – from small-scale to endemic
  • Exchanging fuel for drugs or other illicit goods
  • Sophisticated fraud through “ghost companies,” “safe sex transactions” and “forced marriages”
  • Sanctions busting
  • Laundering

How Can It Be Stopped: States and private actors alike must recognize this problem, understand its scope, fully grasp its implications, and prioritize law-enforcement efforts to confront the issue.  To that end, states must, among other things:

  • Pursue concrete countermeasures, like molecular marking and vessel tracking.
  • Ensure that maritime law enforcement agencies prioritize interdiction of illicit hydrocarbons activities.
  • Cooperate with regional states and international partners to address this global scourge.
  • Dissect the criminal networks and terrorist organizations that use illicit hydrocarbons activities to fund their main enterprise.

The Bottom Line:

The global maritime domain is replete with an array of criminal activities concerning oil and fuel that, if left unchecked, threaten the marine environment, food security, energy security, the global economy and international stability.

Oil Theft

Related Experts: Ian Ralby