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Marinakis' sanctions battle with Venezuelan shipping magnate revealed

The auction this week of a 100,000-barrel cargo of gasoline on board the Capital Maritime tanker Alkimos marks the end of a protracted legal battle with Wilmer Ruperti, who chartered the vessel through his Swiss trading firm

Caracas Capital Markets, a US-based investment firm that tracks Venezuela sanctions links, used vessel-tracking data and court documents filed in Houston to detail subterfuge and obfuscation

GREEK shipowner Evangelos Marinakis’ legal battle to avoid shipping a sanctioned Venezuelan gasoline cargo has been revealed by a US-based investment firm that monitors sanctions related to the South American country.

The charter dispute occurred as details emerged of Mr Marinakis ending a six-tanker bareboat charter with Iraq’s Al-Iraqia Shipping Services and Oil Trading in a rift over implementing a transparent sanctions policy.

The 100,000-barrel cargo of gasoline on board the Malta-flagged, 2015-built, 13,953 dwt tanker Alkimos — beneficially owned by Mr Marinakis’ Capital Maritime & Trading — is being sold at auction in Houston.

The sale this week ends a protracted legal battle with Venezuelan shipping magnate Wilmer Ruperti, who chartered the vessel through his Swiss trading firm.

Sea Energy Co hired the tanker on March 27, according to Russ Dallen, managing director of Miami-based Caracas Capital Markets, which tracks Venezuela sanctions links for clients.

Alkimos was hired for two voyages to pick up gasoline cargoes from the Panamanian port of Cristobal for delivery to Aruba or Curacao to ES Euroshipping, Mr Dallen said.

The option for ship-to-ship transfers was included in the charterparty. 

Caracas Capital used vessel-tracking data and court documents filed in Houston to detail the subterfuge and obfuscation used to source gasoline for Venezuela and how US sanctions deterred the Greek owner from completing the trade.

Details of the fund’s investigation were sent in an email to clients on June 30.

“On March 31, the Alkimos’ owners were still gathering data about their counterparty and awaiting full delivery instructions but they apparently were starting to get a bad feeling about this fare and sent the following email via their brokers,” Mr Dallen said in the written account of events

That email from the shipbroker contained a clause that stipulated the vessel must not be involved in any sanctions-related trading.

According to Mr Dallen, loading of Alkimos began on April 7 and it sailed two days later, after charterers reported that an STS transfer would take place 12 miles off Aruba.

“Then more warning bells started to go off as the charterers finally provided details of the receiving vessel, the Beauty One, and that the STS would take place not in the relatively sheltered Aruba STS area but on the open ocean 50 miles away from Aruba,” the Caracas Capital email said.

The 1993-built, 44,999 dwt product tanker Beauty One has been operating in Venezuelan waters and off Aruba and Curacao since at least September 2019, vessel-tracking data confirms.

“Setting off more alarm bells, the payment from the charterers arrived — not from the charterers, but from an unknown third party called ‘Ultra Travel’ in Montenegro,” Mr Dallen said, citing court documents in connection with the cargo seizure in Houston.

“After realising that there was no redeeming the bad situation they were in and that they did not want to be involved with these people — which unknown to Capital Maritime were fronts run by Venezuela regime oligarch Wilmer Ruperti — the Alkimos abandoned its Aruba anchorage on April 26, advised the Ruperti charterers, filed for arbitration in New York and sailed to Houston where Brujo Finance [the Marshall Islands company that owns Alkimas] sued in US Federal District Court in Houston to be paid by selling the cargo.”

A senior executive at Capital Maritime declined to comment when contacted by Lloyd’s List, saying that the judicial matter was ongoing.

The Alkimos cargo sale comes nearly four weeks after the US Treasury Department sanctioned four tankers linked to Greek shipowners for “supporting the illicit Maduro regime” in Venezuela. Until then, Greek shipowners accounted for 75% of crude shipped from Venezuela.

Sanctions prohibit US citizens from doing business with the government of Venezuela and its national companies, extending to the petroleum sector and therefore shipping.

However, those sanctions do not wield the same expansiveness as secondary sanctions on Iran, which allowed tankers to continue trading until now without falling foul of US administration guidelines.

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