A supertanker carrying Russia’s Urals crude is en route to the Caribbean after completing ship-to-ship transfers off southern Greece, a sign that Russia’s supply chain logistics have become more convoluted. 

It is rare to move Urals in a large vessel to the Caribbean, and it’s unclear what prompted the voyage. Sanctions on Russia are tightening though, the turmoil in the Red Sea is hazarding shipping, and there are signs that more transfers will take place in the coming weeks. 

The Ligera, a very large crude carrier or VLCC, received about 1 million barrels of Urals crude from the Suezmax tanker Julia A between Jan. 28-30 in the Laconian Gulf off southern Greece. It collected another 700,000 barrels of Urals three weeks ago from Nautilus at the same site. 

Urals ship-to-ship transfers — or STS for short — picked up recently after some quiet months toward the end of last year. The tanker Ping An received Urals from another Aframax, Marathon, 10 days ago at the Laconian Gulf and is now headed to Asia. Two more Urals tankers are heading to the site in the coming days.

The driver behind the increase in STS transfers remains unclear. But buyers are increasingly cautious after the US and UK tightened sanctions against tankers involved in Russian oil transportation. Houthi missile attacks on a tanker carrying Russian fuel underscored that the nation’s supplies are also vulnerable.

Ligera is now sailing in the Mediterranean toward Gibraltar. The signal is showing Caribbean for orders. It is still possible that the tanker may change its destination and head to Asia instead. Cuba used to receive Urals occasionally, but has taken nothing since last June.