Venezuelan Oil sent to the Port of Spain, Really?
Oil tanker routes appear to be collecting oil cargo at Venezuela ports before stopping off at Trinidad and Tobago, then quickly setting off again. Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago is just off the NE shore of Venezuela. This is raising suspicions that Venezuelan oil cargoes are being hidden. Venezuela’s national oil company is using co-loads and “false berthings” into nearby Trinidad and Tobago to disguise cargo origins as protection and indemnity (P&I) clubs are publicly warning that a hawkish US could possibly sweep non-US owners and shippers into their sanctions net. Vessel tracking services indicated that three tankers loaded PDVSA oil cargoes in Venezuela since 21 March 2019, then were diverted to areas close to Trinidad and Tobago for several hours. After spending a short time in the waters of this Caribbean island nation, the tankers then departed for their final long-haul destinations.
The practice identified as “false berthing,” are similar to those used by Iran’s national oil company. Though false berthing is nothing new, it is likely being used in an attempt to get new bills of lading describing Trinidad and not Venezuela (and possibly change the cargo from crude oil to fuel oil). Tankers identified making this trajectory include the M/T Mindoro and M/T Amore Mio and a long-range tanker M/T Serengeti. There is no suggestion that any of the shipments were in breach of US sanctions, yet they are raising eye brows. The vessel obfuscation in Trinidadian waters is the second PDVSA tactic noted to complicate merchant tanker destination and origin of petroleum and crude exports.
Two Suezmax and two Aframax tankers that loaded in Venezuela since the imposition of US sanctions were, on 28 January 2019, also involved in ship-to-ship transfers off Gibraltar (Spain). Rolling power blackouts that disrupted port loadings on top of US sanctions are shrinking crude exports from Venezuela to 17-year lows. In March 2019, just under 1m barrels per day was loaded on 33 tankers. That is the second-lowest volume seen since 2006. Venezuela is desperate for oil revenues.
US sanctions currently restrict the sales of crude and petroleum products from PDVSA to the US unless revenues are placed in escrow, cutting off the government of Nicolás Maduro from its biggest export breadwinner. On 12 April 2019, the US Office of Foreign Assets Control expanded sanctions for a second time to include companies and vessels transporting crude to Cuba. That prompted two P&I clubs to warn shipowners outside the US, that they could be affected. Two of the Trinidad cargoes are now sailing around the Cape of Good Hope, Africa and signaling Singapore, a typical destination for fuel oil cargoes. M/T Mindoro’s position on 12 April 2019 was 34.78166 S / 18.9067 E.
The vessel Mindoro (IMO: 9389095, MMSI: 249577000) is a crude oil tanker built in 2009 and currently sailing under the flag of Malta. Her destination is Singapore and has an estimated time of arrival of 30 April 2019. M/T Serengeti is currently tracked close to her next signaled port of Gibraltar. This the same location of other ship to ship oil transfers. The value of an 80,000-tonne fuel oil cargo would be around $33m in the Mediterranean.
As Venezuela continues to economically spiral out of control, false berthing and dangerous ship to ship oil transfers will progress into the norm. Our analysts will continue to monitor this situation.
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