By David Goodman and Jack Wittels
(Bloomberg) – Britain has yet to fully phase out its reliance on Russian fuel, according to data that contradicts an official report released earlier this week that the UK has managed to curb its purchases to zero.
The Office for National Statistics said on Wednesday the UK imported no fuel from Russia for the first time on record in June. This suggested that the government had achieved its ambition to phase out all purchases of natural gas and oil following the invasion of Ukraine.
Data released by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy a day later told a different story. It showed Russian diesel imports in the month were still around half of the previous year’s total.
BEIS said diesel imports from Russia totaled 106,000 tonnes during the month, accounting for 1.8% of total UK imports. The figure was down about 50% from the previous year. He agreed that there were no Russian imports of crude oil.
The difference lies in the way the statistics are collected. ONS data is based on a country sending shipments, while BEIS looks at the country of origin. This shows one of the operational difficulties in ensuring compliance with sanctions.
“All of our trade figures have always been produced on a country of dispatch basis,” an ONS spokesperson said. “Until recent changes to our collection method, country of origin information was not available for all import data.”
Earlier this summer, some market players floated the idea of Russian fuel being routed through other ports before arriving in the UK.
Since the February invasion, the UK has imported more diesel from elsewhere, particularly Belgium, from where arrivals jumped from March to July, according to data from Vortexa Ltd, compiled by Bloomberg. Imports from Belgium hit their highest monthly level on record in June in data dating back to early 2016.
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At the same time that Belgium was shipping more diesel-type fuel to the UK, it was also importing more from Russia. A total ban on the UK importing diesel from Russia – even directly – will not come into force until the end of this year. There is also no general ban on Russian fuel flows to the European Union at present.
It is “fully conceivable, if not likely, that the UK is still importing Russian diesel molecules, albeit mixed in Amsterdam-Rotterdam-Antwerp,” said Facts Global Energy, a shipping tracking consultant, in a note last month.
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