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New PDVSA tanker grab, aid push entangle Curacao



By Argus

Petroleumworld 02 27 2019

A tanker carrying an impounded Venezuelan crude cargo was seized after offloading in Bullen Bay, Curacao, last week, the latest sign of the uncomfortable entanglement between the neighboring countries.

On a local court order, the Panama-flagged 99,438t Icaro unloaded Santa Barbara light crude into a sealed tank at the Bullen Bay terminal, which Venezuela´s state-owned PDVSA (PdV) leases from Curacao along with the 325,000 b/d Isla refinery. The cargo had been the target of a judicial lien since mid-December.

According to local shipping and refinery officials, another unnamed creditor immediately imposed a separate pre-judgment attachment on the PdV-operated tanker itself, dashing the island´s expectations that the vessel would resume its traditional crude deliveries from Venezuela to Curacao and kick off a steady restart of the refinery.

The aging Isla refinery, which is owned by Curacao´s RdK, has been mostly out of service for more than a year because of a lack of feedstock and utility services. The latter are repaired, but the facility has no crude to process. Local distributor Curoil is sourcing fuel for the island from outside suppliers.

RdK this month named a new five-member team to find another operator for the refinery after Saudi Aramco´s US refining arm Motiva recently dropped out of the running. The government is hoping to restore integrity to the process after allegations of corruption tainted earlier negotiations.

PdV´s long-term lease on the refinery and the terminal expires in December 2019. PdV officials have said privately that they would like to retain access to the terminal, which the company uses for storage and ship-to-ship operations for Cuba and longer-haul destinations.

RdK´s new negotiating team is led by Curacao pension fund manager Evelyn Kruithof-Bor, and includes four other senior island executives specializing in refinery operations and finance. The team is "starting from scratch" and "revisiting all options" following a meeting with adviser IHS Markit last week, Argus was told by an official familiar with the renewed search process. All of the participants in a tender last year, including the Dutch company Count Energy Trading, are getting a second look.

Curacao and other Dutch Caribbean islands Bonaire and Aruba are key parts of PdV´s offshore logistical network, but the company has not kept up with maintenance and its assets are repeatedly seized by creditors drawn by the Dutch jurisdiction that facilitates pre-judgment attachments.

The Icaro episode was eclipsed by the weekend´s unrest in Venezuela, where the US-backed political opposition tried to force humanitarian aid past a government blockade. Venezuela´s border areas remain tense with sporadic clashes and numerous casualties.

The Netherlands, which like most western countries recognizes opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela´s interim president, agreed to designate Curacao as a staging area for the controversial aid campaign. Most of the aid was gathered in border sites in Colombia and Brazil.

Venezuela´s president Nicolas Maduro closed the air and sea borders with the Dutch Caribbean last week in anticipation of an aid flotilla. He and his inner circle say the aid, which remains stored on the borders, is a pretext for US military intervention.

None of the aid was ever dispatched from Curacao.

Speaking before the Lima Group yesterday in Bogotá, US vice president Mike Pence repeated that "all options are on the table" but Washington has signaled that it has no plans to intervene militarily. The Lima Group, which represents large South and Central American countries, concluded yesterday that it supports a political transition led by Venezuelans and rejected suggestions of armed intervention.

Curacao has sought to distance itself from the simmering conflict, asserting that the aid stored on the island is a private-sector effort. The island is a forward-operating site for the US Air Force, but it would not be used for any Venezuela operations, government officials say.



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