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PDVSA tanker forced to deliver fuel to Cuba



By Argus

Petroleumworld 05 23 2019

Officers and crew of Venezuelan state-owned PdV's products tanker Manuela Saenz were forced at gunpoint to deliver a diesel cargo to Cuba, two officials with PdV's marketing department and shipping subsidiary PdV Marina told Argus .

The incident took place on 1 May, less than a month after the US government began sanctioning specific tankers that shuttle Venezuelan oil to Cuba, which Washington accuses of helping to prop up the government in Caracas. The Venezuelan-flagged Manuela Saenz is not on the list of targeted tankers.

According to the two PdV officials who requested anonymity to ensure their safety, members of the Bolivarian intelligence service (Sebin) boarded the products tanker in Venezuelan waters near the Amuay terminal at PdV's 940,000 b/d CRP refining complex on the Paraguaná peninsula. The Sebin action took place after the ship captain had notified superiors at the Venezuelan oil ministry and PdV of his decision to disobey instructions to deliver the fuel to Cuba.

Sebin agents arrested the captain, seized control of the tanker and ordered its crew to set sail immediately for Cuba or else they would be arrested, fired from PdV, charged with treason and prosecuted by military courts, the PdV Marina official said.

"A temporary replacement captain was brought aboard the Manuela Saenz , and the crew members were threatened at gunpoint to comply with PdV's sailing instructions or face immediate arrest and years in prison," the PdV Marina official added.

A PdV marketing official at corporate headquarters in Caracas confirmed the incident happened as described by the PdV Marina official.

Armed Sebin officials remained aboard the vessel during the voyage to ensure the cargo was delivered safely to Cuba.

The tanker's transponder was shut off during the voyage and was only switched on briefly while the vessel transited between Jamaica and Haiti, the PdV Marina official said.

The Manuela Saenz currently remains in Cuban waters near Havana, but is scheduled to return by next week to the CRP's Amuay and Punta Cardon terminals.

The incident underscores the tight economic and political ties between the governments of Venezuela and Cuba. But it also shows dissent among Venezuelan mid-level officials who oppose their government's support for Havana amid severe shortages at home. Motor fuel in particular has grown scarce across Venezuela in recent weeks.

PdV has shipped crude and refined products to Cuba under a bilateral agreement signed in 2000 by then-president Hugo Chavez and Cuban leader Fidel Castro, both now deceased.

PdV delivered over 65,000 b/d of oil to Cuba as recently as March 2019, an oil ministry official said.

Since the oil supply agreement was forged nearly two decades ago, Cuba has received the equivalent of over $26bn worth of free oil deliveries and cash transfers from Venezuela, which are booked here as payment for a range of health, education and security services provided in Venezuela by thousands of Cuban nationals embedded in the Opec producer's armed forces, security agencies and government ministries, according to annual oil ministry and PdV reports dating from 2000 to 2017.

Starting on 5 April, the US Treasury imposed sanctions on tankers and shipping companies involved in transporting Venezuelan oil to Cuba. The list was expanded on 12 April.

Venezuela´s political opposition has pledged to cut off supply to Cuba after it succeeds in ousting President Nicolas Maduro, Chavez´s hand-picked successor since 2013. So far Maduro has overcome the US-backed opposition and the US sanctions meant to isolate him. He blames the sanctions for his country´s severe economic plight, echoing the official Cuban narrative dating from the imposition of a US economic embargo on the island in the 1960s. But even inside the Maduro government, Venezuelan officials quietly grumble that Cuba is siphoning off fuel that is sorely needed at home.



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