MEXICO CITY / SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Oil tankers transporting nearly two months of Venezuelan oil production are trapped at sea as world refineries avoid the nation’s crude to avoid falling under U.S. sanctions, according to sources at the industry, PDVSA documents and shipping data.
Washington is tightening sanctions to reduce Venezuela’s oil exports and deprive the government of socialist President Nicolás Maduro from its main source of revenue.
OPEC members’ exports are near their lowest levels in more than 70 years and the economy has collapsed, but Maduro has clung to the frustration of the administration of the President of the United States, Donald Trump.
Washington has blacklisted ships and merchants this month for their role in the state-administered oil trade and transportation of PDVSA and threatened to add more to its list of sanctioned entities.
According to Refinitiv Eikon data, at least 16 oil tankers carrying 18.1 million barrels of Venezuelan oil are trapped at sea worldwide while buyers avoid them to avoid sanctions. That equates to almost two months of production at Venezuela’s current production rate.
Some of the vessels have been at sea for more than six months and have sailed to various ports but have been unable to unload.
Oil cargoes are seldom loaded on a tanker without a buyer. Those in the water with no buyers are generally distraught in the industry, and are generally sold at a discount.
Each tanker is incurring heavy delay charges for the daily delay in unloading. According to a shipping source, the cost of a vessel carrying Venezuelan oil is at least $ 30,000 per day.
“This is our third attempt to find a buyer,” said an executive at a petroleum company registered as a client of PDVSA, which took a load of Venezuelan heavy crude in January and was unable to sell it due to the possibility of sanctions.
The charge has accumulated rates of stay in Africa for more than 120 days, said the executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Even long-standing PDVSA clients are struggling to complete transactions that are allowed under penalties, for debt repayment or food exchange, the executive added. Buyers are concerned about penalties even for those charges.
The MT Kelly with the flag of Panama is one of the boats trapped in the sea. She sailed to Turkey in April with no PDCSA disclosed in her monthly charging schedule. The vessel entered the Mediterranean only to turn around, sail back across the Strait of Gibraltar, and sail around the coast of Africa, according to the data.
Greece’s PDVSA, Venezuela’s oil ministry and Greece-based Altomare SA, commercial manager for MT Kelly, did not respond to requests for comment.
Most other tankers set sail for Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia or Togo, where they generally transfer their oil to other ships at sea, sometimes hiding their origin before sending them to a refiner. The ships have not been unloaded, but some have turned off transponders that transmit their position, according to Eikon data.
Six of the ships anchored in Malaysia are managed by Greece-based Eurotankers Inc and have been waiting up to four months to unload, according to Eikon data. Eurotankers did not respond to a request for comment.
Libre Abordo de México, which together with related firm Schlager Business Group rented three of the stranded shipments according to PDVSA documents, declined to comment. The companies were blacklisted by the United States Treasury Department last week along with their owners for trading Venezuelan oil through a pact described by the firms as an oil-for-food deal.
Amsterdam-based GPB Global Resources, which rented two other cargoes, declined to comment on the ships, but said the company and its affiliates “are doing business in accordance with all applicable rules and regulations, including state sanctions. United”.
Hong Kong-based Richeart International, in charge of four other shipments, could not be reached for comment.
Venezuela’s difficult export situation comes as most oil-producing nations continue to struggle to allocate high inventories in an oversupplied market, which has lessened many buyers’ appetite for risky oil such as Iranian and Venezuelan crude.
The threat of tighter U.S. sanctions is also affecting the global shipping market. Since late May, at least six oil tankers sailing to Venezuela or waiting to load exports have been diverted, as the United States considers blacklisting more ships and shipping companies for alleged sanctions violations.
Report by Marianna Parraga in Mexico City and Roslan Khasawneh in Singapore; additional reports by Luc Cohen in New York and Ana Isabel Martínez in Mexico City; Editing by Simon Webb and Tom Brown