Venezuela flooding Cuba with stranded oil

HAVANA, Oct. 3th At least three Venezuelan fuel tankers are heading towards Cuba today, part of a flotilla meant to free up domestic storage space while defying a US campaign to cut off Venezuela’s oil supply to Cuba.

Up to 3mn bl of refined products and heavy crude that Venezuelan state-owned PdV is dispatching to Cuba in the first half of October should help partially alleviate a critical storage deficit that has forced down Venezuelan production toward 500,000 b/d.

The storage shortage is a domino effect of US sanctions that are scaring away most buyers, with a few exceptions such as Russia’s state-controlled Rosneft and Spain’s Repsol that takes supply in exchange for its domestic production.

Although Venezuela has long supplied Cuba with oil under preferential terms, the wave of new shipments — equivalent to 200,000 b/d in the first half October — quadruple the volume that PdV had been delivering in recent months. Cuba has about 160,000 b/d of oil demand, with roughly 50,000 b/d covered by domestic production.

Two oil union officials at the 940,000 b/d CRP refining complex in Venezuela’s Falcon state confirmed that tankers TerepaimaParamaconi, and Manuela Saenz are en route to the Cuban terminals of Matanzas and Cienfuegos for state-owned Cupet and state-owned utility UNE.

Argus was unable to reach Cuban officials for comment. The government in Havana has instituted an oil austerity campaign in recent weeks, citing a sharp cutback in Venezuelan supply.

According to an official with PdV’s shipping unit PdV Marina, Terepaima transporting 500,000 bl of fuel oil, is expected to arrive in Matanzas tomorrow. Paramaconi will arrive by the weekend with a further 300,000 bl of fuel oil.

Both tankers switched off their transponders shortly after departing the Cardon and Amuay anchorages near PdV’s CRP refining complex, which includes the 635,000 b/d Amuay refinery and nearby 305,000 b/d Cardon refinery.

PdV tanker Manuela Saenz carrying over 300,000 bl of gasoline for Cienfuegos, left Cardon’s anchorage early today but has not shut down its transponder yet.

The Manuela Saenz will turn off its transponder when it reaches Venezuela’s nautical 12-mile limit, in accordance with new mandatory PdV shipping protocols that seek to obscure the arrival and departure of most tankers in an effort to evade US sanctions, all three officials said.

PdV tanker Icaro is still lying at anchorage off Amuay with 300,000 bl of fuel oil for Cupet and UNE. The PdV Marina official said Icaro is expected to leave Venezuelan waters around 6 October.

PdV tankers Yare carrying 300,000 bl of 16°API Merey blend and Luisa Caceres with 300,000 bl of gasoline, could not be located, but both are believed to be en route to Cuba as well.

The cargoes aboard PdV’s six tankers, five of them under Venezuelan flag and the sixth — Icaro — flagged in Panama include gasoline, diesel, fuel oil and Merey, a PdV marketing division official said.

The shipments should help the Cuban government to ease oil shortages that are crippling the island’s transportation and electricity generation. But some are also likely to be resold, a PdV official said. Cuba has been subject to US economic sanctions since the 1960s.

The White House, which blames Havana for helping to keep Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in power, recently toughened Cuba penalties, specifically targeting oil tankers and shipping firms. None of the PdV tankers loaded with oil for Cuba this week are on the sanctions roster.

PdV’s crude production dropped to around 650,000 b/d last month compared with about 750,000 b/d in August as its domestic mainland and floating storage capacity maxed out, forcing the company to shut in about 120,000 b/d or Orinoco extra-heavy crude production.

PetroSinovensa, PdV’s crude blending joint venture with Chinese state-owned CNPC, halted operations “indefinitely” yesterday because of the storage and export constraints. The plant had been the last in the Jose complex that was still running, after PdV’s PetroPiar venture with Chevron shut down last month.

Caracas blames US sanctions for the loss of production and exports. “Tanker owners, operators and insurers do not want to work with us because of the American sanctions,” a ministry official said.

A shipping agent in Venezuela cites other factors hindering PdV’s export operations such as crime, unsafe infrastructure and a lack of reputable insurance at the Jose terminal in Anzoategui state through which up to 75pc of Venezuela’s exports leave the Opec country. The Cardon and Amuay terminals on the Paraguana peninsula “are in worse shape operationally than Jose.”

The storage shortage cutting into production is creating panic in PdV’s depleted ranks, with multiple officials describing the upstream situation as “critical”.

“PdV’s implosion is accelerating and the oil ministry and board of directors have no idea how to reverse or even slow the collapse,” a PdV upstream official said.