(Reuters, 1.Jul.2020) — A federal court in Houston on Wednesday was expected to auction 100,000 barrels of gasoline that a shipping company suspected a Venezuelan shipping magnate close to the socialist government in Caracas planned to send to the country.
The company, Marshall Islands-based Brujo Finance Company, feared the deal could have exposed it to U.S. sanctions. The case shows how some maritime companies would rather face customers in court than risk their vessels getting sanctioned and shunned by other shippers.
In a lawsuit filed in May with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Brujo said its vessel, the Alkimos, loaded gasoline in Panama in March for what the charterer, Sea Energy Company, said was a journey to Aruba or Curacao.
Brujo said Sea Energy informed it the Alkimos should discharge via ship-to-ship transfer off Aruba to the Beauty One, a tanker that frequently docked in Venezuela. Brujo said it sought assurance from Sea Energy the gasoline would not go to Venezuela, but did not receive a satisfactory response.
The United States sanctioned state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela in January 2019 in a push to oust President Nicolas Maduro. It has sanctioned shipping companies for transporting Venezuelan oil, and threatened sanctions on companies doing business with Venezuela.
Brujo invoked its contract’s sanctions clause and took Sea Energy to arbitration, paving the way for the auction. Brujo seeks damages for fees the Alkimos incurred while waiting.
Sea Energy and ES Euroshipping – the cargo’s owner – accused Brujo of “theft” and said the operation presented no sanctions risk since the Beauty One vessel was not sanctioned.
“No applicable law … imposes a complete embargo against Venezuela,” the companies wrote.
ES Euroshipping is owned by Wilmer Ruperti, a Venezuelan magnate who coordinated a gasoline shipment to Venezuela in April. Washington is probing Ruperti for possible sanctions violations.
Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York Editing by Paul Simao