Britain is not yet completely weaned off Russian fuel, according to data cited by Bloomberg that contradicts an official report earlier this week which said the UK had succeeded in zeroing in on Russian fuel purchases.
The Office for National Statistics said on Wednesday that the UK imported no fuel from Russia for the first time on record in June. This suggests the government has succeeded in its ambition to phase out all gas and oil purchases in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine.
Figures released by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy a day later told a different story. They showed that Russian diesel imports for the month were still about half of last year’s total.
BEIS reported that diesel imports from Russia amounted to 106 thousand tonnes per month, making up 1.8% of total UK imports. This number was down by about 50% from a year earlier. He agreed that there were no Russian crude oil imports.
The discrepancy lies in the way the statistics are collected. The ONS figures are based on the country sending the cargo, while BEIS looks at the country of origin and shows one of the operational difficulties in ensuring compliance with sanctions.
“All our trade data has always been produced on a country of dispatch basis,” an ONS spokesman said. “Until recent changes to our collection method, country of origin information was not available for all import items.”
Earlier this summer, some market participants discussed the idea of Russian fuel being routed through other ports before reaching the UK.
After the February surge, the UK imported more diesel from elsewhere – notably Belgium – where arrivals rose sharply from March to July, according to Vortexa Ltd data compiled by Bloomberg. Imports from Belgium reached the highest monthly figure in June on data going back to early 2016.
At the same time that Belgium is sending more diesel fuel to the UK, it is also importing more from Russia. The UK’s total ban on diesel imports from Russia – even directly – does not come into force until the end of this year. There is also no blanket ban on Russian fuel flows into the European Union at the moment.
It is “quite likely, if not likely, that the UK will still import Russian diesel, albeit blended in Amsterdam-Rotterdam-Antwerp,” Facts Global Energy, a consultancy that tracks shipments, said in a note last month.
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