Despite launch parties, Venezuelan oil tankers never set sail

Tue Oct 1, 2013 11:44am EDT
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By Marianna Parraga

HOUSTON (Reuters) - With flags and confetti, Venezuela in the last 14 months launched three new oil tankers that exemplify the socialist nation's ambitions to diversify to Asian markets and give a helping hand to its political allies.

But the tankers from shipyards in Iran, Argentina and China, have never set sail, according to five sources with knowledge of the company's fleet, as well as ship tracking data from Reuters showing the ships sitting where they were built.

Ship brokers, a source from state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), and a shipbuilder offered an array of explanations for the delays - from lack of payment to manufacturing hiccups. But it is clear PDVSA's push to replace and expand its fleet is stumbling.

The new tankers are fruits of deceased President Hugo Chavez's plan to stimulate shipbuilding in Iran, China, Argentina and even Brazil as part of a broad effort to blunt U.S. power.

The three vessels are part of 42 tankers PDVSA ordered starting in 2006 to replace its fleet by the end of 2012. But only five of the tankers have set sail.

The delays mean higher freight costs for the financially-strapped company. An internal report from March seen by Reuters said PDVSA leased 75 tankers. One contract signed this year showed PDVSA was paying $15,000 a day for a tanker, a broker who had seen the document said.

PDVSA's plan was to cut leasing, which could amount to hundreds of millions of dollars a year at a time when PDVSA is struggling with falling output and tight cashflow.

Photographs published by Venezuelan embassies and government agencies more than a year ago show PDVSA officials and dignitaries at parties launching the medium-sized Eva Peron Aframax in Argentina and the Carabobo very large crude carrier (VLCC) in China. The Sorocaima was shown draped in ceremonial flags, floating in the water, in pictures by Iran's Mehr news agency.   Continued...