The master of a tanker arrested by Albanian police in a Russian oil smuggling investigation finally returned home eight months after his ship was detained.
Russian master Alexey Smaznov was held in prison for two months before he was bailed to the 37,600-dwt Grace Felix (built 2008) after police said they had found forged paperwork linked to a ship-to-ship (STS) transfer off the coast of Greece.
The Grace Felix remains off the Albanian port city of Durres, where it has been held since 14 February while police inquiries continue into the oil transfer off Kalamata. None of the original crew are now on board, said officials.
Smaznov was released within days of a visit to the ship by an inspector from the International Transport Workers’ Federation in October.
Romano Peric, a coordinator based in Croatia, said he believes all charges have been dropped and Smaznov is free to return without the risk of arrest. The Albanian police did not respond to a request for comment.
“I found this guy is really honest and a nice guy family man, absolutely nothing like a criminal,” Peric told TradeWinds.
Smaznov was arrested on suspicion of evading taxes and transporting smuggled goods linked to the cargo of more than 180,000 barrels of refined oil on board.
Police say the Liberia-flag Grace Felix loaded the Russian oil from a Turkish-flagged ship in an STS transfer off Kalamata around 11 February before heading to Albania.
They said the ship was investigated based on intelligence that emerged from a series of investigations of oil smuggling from Libya and other countries.
It was stopped days after the European Union imposed a ban on the import of refined oil product cargoes in February.
Albania is not a member of the EU but is looking to join and has coordinated its policy towards Russia with the bloc.
After the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, then foreign minister Olta Xhacka condemned the war and announced that Albania would adopt the EU sanctions.
Registered owner Grace Felix Shipping is a single-ship company with an address care of Cyprus-based ship manager Cymare, according to Equasis.
Cymare has previously declined to identify the ship’s beneficial owner or charterer. It did not respond to a request for comment over Smaznov’s release.
Russian unions had complained that Smaznov, who has more than 20 years of experience at sea, was a victim of a growing trend of the criminalisation of seafarers.
The Seafarers Union of Russia, which asked Peric to intervene, said detaining seafarers without charge is an alarming trend. “Stopping this vicious practice is the common task of the maritime community,” it said.
Peric said Smaznov’s ordeal was for carrying out the same oil transfer that he had done many times in his career.
“The STS transfer was no different to any other, it’s not even from a Russian ship and was in Greek waters from a Turkish ship,” Peric said.
“The documents [he had] are those for the normal transport of fuel from one ship to another ship — like he did so many times.”
The International Maritime Organization drafted new guidelines in March for seafarers detained on suspicion of committing maritime crimes. They said seafarers should be recognised as a special category of workers who need extra protection because of the global nature of their work.
The IMO called for accused seafarers to be treated fairly and said detention should be “for no longer than necessary”.
A 2019 survey by the Nautilus Federation found that almost 90% of seafarers fear criminalisation at work. The union said the number of cases in which seafarers have been detained worldwide is “increasing at a startling rate”.
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