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Resold China-flagged tankers lift first Venezuelan cargoes in six months

Crude shipments resume after Russian traders, acting as cover for Chinese deliveries, stopped shipping to China following US sanctions imposed last March

Sales and purchase brokers note trend of elderly tanker tonnage being sold to anonymous buyers for sanctions busting

TANKERS flying flags of China and Vietnam have resumed shipping sanctioned Venezuelan crude, often switching off vessel-tracking signals to obfuscate the cargo’s origin and destination.

The China-flagged very large crude carriers Xing Ye (IMO 9590058), Yong Le (IMO 9623257) and Thousand Sunny (IMO 9623269) are among at least a dozen tankers known to have been quietly sold on the sale and purchase market during the past six months to anonymous or unknown owners, who then immediately sail them to Venezuela to load.

China and Vietnam have resumed shipping sanctioned Venezuelan crude Lloyd’s List Intelligence

The VLCCs were formerly owned by China’s National Petroleum Corp, known as PetroChina, and changed ownership between July and October, Lloyd’s List Intelligence data shows.

“The three PetroChina tankers are the first Chinese ships picking up crude in Venezuela since the Russians, via Rosneft Trading, stopped acting as a cover for China deliveries and pulled out of Venezuela in March,” said Russ Dallen, head of Miami-based Caracas Capital Markets.

Xing Ye and Thousand Sunny’s most recent Automatic Identification System signals were in Venezuelan waters near Puerto La Cruz and the Jose terminal 10 days ago, where the vessels were presumably loading and then sailing for the Pacific region.

They had arrived after spending several days around the coast of Dutch Caribbean islands, areas where national oil company PDVSA is known to have oil storage tanks and has undertaken ship-to-ship shipments previously.

Xong Le is in the Indian Ocean sailing past Mauritius and presumed sailing for Venezuela.

The Vietnamese-flagged PVT Aurora (IMO 9508938), a handysize tanker, loaded in Venezuela on November 20 and is now sailing for Curacao.

Unlike other tankers, PVT Aurora and PVT Athena (IMO 9208136) have not been sold and remain owned by Petrovietnam, since last November, Lloyd’s List Intelligence data shows. 

PVT Athena appears to have undergone an STS transfer on November 21, off Malaysia’s Sungai Udang anchorage area and sailed for the South China Sea, switching off its AIS two days ago.

OT Helene (IMO 9143532) and OT Kristina (IMO 9169512) are aframax product tankers sold in August, again to unknown owners and reflagged to St Vincent and the Grenadines before sailing to Venezuela or nearby regions to load.

OT Kristina was signalling in waters off Trinidad and Tobago, before sailing laden on November 11 and is now in the south Atlantic and heading around the Cape of Good Hope. OT Helene is in the Strait of Singapore with a cargo of Venezuelan crude.

Sales and purchase brokers have noted the trend of elderly tonnage being bought for opaque trading purposes, at the same time as scrapping rates for tankers is at the lowest in 23 years.

The prices paid are higher than owners can receive for scrapping, keeping the global fleet inflated at a time when a tonnage surplus has spot rates on many routes at levels around operating costs.

Sale and purchase brokers said Middle East and Chinese buyers were known to pay inflated prices for elderly tankers in some of the 2020 deals, with the vessels later undertaking sanctions-busting business.

Lloyd’s List revealed yesterday that Greece-owned tankers, including five from the fleet of the Gotsis family’s Eurotanker management group were also sold to anonymous owners before loading sanctioned Venezuelan crude cargoes in the past eight weeks.

The development is the latest sanctions evasion technique to circumvent strict US monitoring of crude exports from the South American country, and mirrors those also used by Iran to maintain flows of crude and fuel oil in the Middle East Gulf.

The US imposed sanctions on Russian traders earlier this year, which Mr Dallen said were being used by Venezuela’s PDVSA as an intermediary and “a beard” to disguise sales to China.

Sanctions were briefly imposed on four Greece-owned tankers in June owned by prominent Greek families, which had shipped 80% of Venezuelan crude until then.

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