Client Alert 06 Dec. 2023

U.S. Treasury Designates Companies and Vessels for Violating the Russian Crude Oil Price Cap

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U.S. Treasury Designates Companies and Vessels for Violating the Russian Crude Oil Price Cap

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions on December 1, 2023 on three companies and three vessels for using Price Cap Coalition services while carrying Russian crude oil above the Coalition-agreed price cap of $60 per barrel.

OFAC designated HS Atlantica Limited, Sterling Shipping Incorporated, and Streymoy Shipping Limited to its List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (SDN List) under Section 1(a)(i) of Executive Order 14024 for operating or having operated in the marine sector of the Russian Federation economy. Additionally, OFAC designated the three vessels, HS Atlantica, NS Champion, and Viktor Bakaev, to its SDN List for being owned by the designated companies

General License 78

Simultaneously with the designation of the companies and vessels, OFAC issued Russia-related General License (GL) 78. This license authorizes limited safety and environmental transactions involving the designated companies and vessels, through 12:01 a.m. eastern standard time, February 29, 2024.

GL 78 authorizes certain transactions in relation to the blocked vessels, namely: (1) docking and anchoring, (2) preservation of the health or safety of the crew, and (3) emergency repairs or environmental mitigation or protection activities.

GL 78 does not authorize (1) the entry into any new commercial contracts involving the property or interests in property of any blocked persons; (2) offloading of any cargo onboard any of the Blocked Vessels; (3) transactions related to the sale of crude oil or petroleum products of Russian Federation origin; (4) transactions prohibited by Directive 2 under E.O. 14024; (5) transactions prohibited by Directive 4 under E.O. 14024; and (6) transactions otherwise prohibited by the Russian Harmful Foreign Activities Sanctions Regulations (RuHSR), including transactions involving the property or interests in property of any person blocked pursuant to the RuHSR.

Future Enforcement

The latest designation of companies and vessels for violating the price cap is not an isolated incident. Previously, OFAC designated two companies and two vessels on October 12, 2023, and three companies along with three vessels on November 16, 2023, for using Price Cap Coalition service providers while transporting Russian crude oil above the Coalition-agreed price cap.

Given the consistent emphasis by the U.S. Department of the Treasury on enforcing the price cap on Russian oil as a top priority, it is highly probable that more such designations will occur in the future. This approach, targeting violators of the price cap and their vessels, serves the United States’ dual objectives of limiting Russia’s oil profits and promoting stable global energy markets.

Ensuring Compliance

Multiple resources exist to aid both U.S. and non-U.S. entities engaged in maritime trade of crude oil and refined petroleum products in complying with U.S. sanctions laws and the price cap.

OFAC’s February 3, 2023, “Guidance on Implementation of the Price Cap Policy for Crude Oil and Petroleum Products of Russian Federation Origin” outlines the implementation of the price cap policy for Russian-origin crude oil. It grants a safe harbor from OFAC enforcement to U.S. service providers complying in good faith with a recordkeeping and attestation process. This guidance delineates specific “Covered Services” that U.S. persons are authorized to provide concerning the maritime transport of Russian oil and petroleum products, given their purchase at or below the price cap. These services encompass trading/commodities brokering, financing, shipping, insurance (including reinsurance and protection and indemnity), flagging, and customs brokering.

On April 17, 2023, OFAC issued an “Alert on Possible Evasion of the Russian Oil Price Cap,” cautioning U.S. persons about potential evasion of the price cap on Russian-origin crude oil, particularly concerning oil exported via the Eastern Siberia Pacific Ocean (ESPO) pipeline and eastern coast ports of Russia. The alert provides compliance measures to ship owners, protection and indemnity clubs, flagging registries, and oil traders to ensure adherence to the price cap.

On October 12, 2023, the Price Cap Coalition released the “Price Cap Coalition Advisory for the Maritime Oil Industry and Related Sector,” featuring seven specific best practice recommendations. This advisory underlines the Coalition’s dedication to responsible industry practices, preventing and disrupting sanctioned trade, and improving compliance with the price cap.

Importantly, screening, due diligence, and Know Your Customer practices are more crucial now than ever. Entities owned, directly or indirectly, by 50 percent or more by one or more Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs) are blocked, irrespective of their appearance on the SDN List. Therefore, U.S. and non-U.S. entities involved in maritime trade of crude oil and refined petroleum products must exercise vigilance to avoid transactions with SDNs, even those who do not appear on OFAC’s SDN List.

Conclusion

Compliance with U.S. sanctions laws, particularly regarding the price cap on Russian-origin crude oil, is now imperative for entities in maritime trade. Recent actions by OFAC, such as sanctioning companies and vessels for price cap violations and issuing general licenses, signal stringent enforcement. Vigilance, robust screening, and due diligence, especially concerning entities indirectly linked to SDNs, have become paramount to mitigate regulatory risks and ensure strict adherence to sanctions laws.

About Curtis

Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle LLP is a leading international law firm. Headquartered in New York, Curtis has 19 offices in the United States, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Curtis represents a wide range of clients, including multinational corporations and financial institutions, governments and state-owned companies, money managers, sovereign wealth funds, family-owned businesses, individuals and entrepreneurs.

Attorney advertising. The material contained in this Client Alert is only a general review of the subjects covered and does not constitute legal advice. No legal or business decision should be based on its contents.

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