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US wields ‘stick-and-carrot’ policy to warn owners away from Venezuela

Two Greek tankers are ‘paroled’ for good behaviour, while another pair are added to the blacklist, but questions still remain over Washington’s recalibrated approach

Afranav Maritime statement, provided in writing to Lloyd’s List, echoes similar pledges made by Dynacom Tankers, NGM Energy and Thenamaris

ANOTHER Greece-based shipping company has announced it is halting Venezuela port calls except with prior US approval as the shipping industry grapples with an apparent change in how Washington is wielding its sanctions policy towards tanker operators.

The US campaign against the Venezuelan government of Nicolas Maduro has intensified its focus on tanker calls to the South American country since the start of this month when four Greek-run tankers were backlisted by the US treasury department’s  Office of Foreign Assets Control.

The last of the four to break a public silence, Afranav Maritime, the registered owner of the aframax Athens Voyager, said that the designation of the company and the vessel had “prompted the adoption of a firm policy that prohibits vessels calling at Venezuelan and sanctioned countries until there is a change in regime”.

The statement, provided in writing to Lloyd’s List, echoed similar pledges made by Dynacom Tankers, NGM Energy and Thenamaris about a week earlier.

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The statement added: “Afranav’s commercial manager Chemnav Shipmanagement has also adopted such a policy across the board of all its managed vessels barring a change in regime or a license from Ofac.”

In a whiplash-inducing move on Thursday, Ofac removed Athens Voyager from its list of “specially designated nationals”, known as the “SDN list,” seemingly in return for a pledge of future compliance with the sanctions. Similarly removed from the blacklist was the Dynacom-managed suezmax Chios I.

The delistings came just days after a meeting between the president of the Union of Greek Shipowners Theodore Veniamis and the US ambassador to Greece, Geoffrey Pyatt.

According to the Greek side, the ambassador — while reiterating the US’ determination to strictly enforce sanctions — hinted strongly that the cases could have a “positive outcome”, given the shipowners’ readiness to heed the warning and shun Venezuelan business.

“Today’s delisting action supports the statement that US sanctions need not be permanent,” the Treasury department said.

“Sanctions are intended to bring about a positive change of behavior, as identified in the case of these maritime entities,” it said.  The US had “made clear” that “the removal of sanctions is available for [designated] individuals and entities”.

To be eligible for parole, however, companies should “among other things, take concrete and meaningful actions to restore democratic order, refuse to take part in human rights abuses, speak out against abuses committed by the illegitimate Maduro regime, cease involvement in the oil, gold, financial, and defense and security sectors of the Venezuelan economy, or combat corruption in Venezuela”.

One owner who has run foul of US sanctions said: “Owners have to align with US foreign policy on this matter — I think that is the key issue.”

Washington’s adoption of what is clearly a stick-and-carrot policy still left questions in the air as two of the other quartet of vessels remained blacklisted despite similar expressions of co-operation from their owners and managers.

Industry sources, however, believe that both are also likely to be delisted and that the delay is process-related.

At the same time, two further Greek-linked tankers were freshly blacklisted on Thursday for transacting with Venezuela’s oil industry.

One of these, the 18-year-old aframax Euroforce, is managed by Eurotankers, which according to Lloyd’s List Intelligence data has been one of the more frequent Greek callers in Venezuela over the last 12 months, going by tonnage arriving at terminals.

The other new addition to the blacklist, though, is the 2003-built aframax Delos Voyager, that databases link to Chemnav, begging the question of whether companies that play along are eligible for a blanket parole.

A source familiar with the US administration’s workings suggests that the targeting of Delos Voyager may have been a mistake.

“They don’t know who the ultimate owners are when they are targeting vessels,” the source told Lloyd’s List. “It can easily happen.”

Others suggest that Ofac failed to make the connection with Chemnav due to the use of a third-party shipmanager for the second tanker.

“The US is continuing to focus on the maritime industry, and in particular, non-US companies and vessels that do business with the government of Venezuela,” US law firm Seward & Kissel observed after the latest blacklistings and delistings. 

“As such, even non-US companies face risk operating in certain sectors of the Venezuelan economy, including the lifting and transport of Venezuelan crude oil from Petroleos de Venezuela (PdVSA) or other companies owned by, or acting on behalf of, the government of Venezuela.”

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