According to Nate, there's a very loose network of global ship enthusiasts that tracks the comings and goings of these ships in various harbors around the globe, but coverage is spotty. Once upon a time, local newspapers in coastal cities would report all of the ships that came into port on a given day. Apparently harbor traffic is less newsworthy today, but Google searches can turn up some interesting info. For instance, a quick search for "MT Waltz," the ship that Nate photographed the other day, uncovers this undated press release. Apparently the Waltz is a brand-new ship, which was scheduled to be delivered to its owners, Hartmann Shipping, on April 30 of this year.
Said press release also declares that "the vessels MT 'Tango' and MT 'Waltz' are so-called 'Green Ship Suezmax Tankers', which are built in compliance with latest antipollution-standards." A green oil tanker - the whales and dolphins must be so happy!
But if more curious harbor-watchers like Nate were able to accurately track the transoceanic commerce of these ships, we might have a better idea of where our oil is really coming from. It could be a black-gold analogue to the BBC's The Box project. Is our oil British, from the fields of the North Sea? Or Arabian? Russian? Venezuelan? For now, that's the proprietary knowledge of shipping and oil corporations - but it's knowledge that's free for the taking, for anyone with harbor views.