(Argus, 13.Oct.2020) — Italian Eni’s plan to drain a Venezuelan floating oil storage vessel considered a potential environmental risk has been delayed for weeks because of concerns over US sanctions on the Opec country.
The Venezuela-flagged Nabarima floating storage and offloading unit (FSO) had been listing in August, with flooding reported by workers on and off the vessel. In early September, Eni said the vessel had been stabilized and a water leak resolved.
The FSO, which is carrying at capacity of up to 1.3mn bl of crude, has been moored at the offshore Corocoro field in Venezuela’s Gulf of Paria for 10 years.
The field belongs to PetroSucre, a joint venture operated by Venezuelan state-owned PdV. Eni holds a minority 26pc stake.
“Over the last few weeks we have submitted a state of the art technical proposal to PDVSA,” Eni told Argus today. The company stated that in the framework of a “constant and cooperative dialogue” with the US State Department and the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) that administers sanctions, it is awaiting clearance to move ahead with the operation.
“We have asked [for] a green light to proceed, in order to prevent any sanctions risk. A response is pending,” Eni said.
Caracas has denied any problems with the vessel. In a 5 September statement, PdV-controlled PetroSucre said the vessel posed no environmental risk and deemed the information about its lack of structural integrity as “fake news” aimed at justifying US sanctions. Since then, neither PdV nor the Venezuelan government has commented.
Neither the US State Department nor Ofac has commented.
It is not clear if a ship-to-ship transfer would require a specific OFAC waiver, or explicit assurances that the operation, carried out on safety and environmental grounds, would not violate the US sanctions regime. Nor is it clear if Eni would retain title to the oil to be able to use or sell it, and how PetroSucre would be paid.
Venezuela’s wary neighbor, Trinidad and Tobago, says it is waiting for Caracas to allow its inspectors on to the vessel.
The inspection has been delayed “until a late-October date” that has yet to be agreed on with Caracas, the energy ministry told Argus yesterday.
Trinidad had hoped a government team could have inspected the Nabarima before the end of September, but is still awaiting Venezuelan permission, the ministry said.
The inspection is intended to ensure that Trinidad’s waters are not in danger of a major oil spill, the ministry said.
The ministry added that the delay is not a result of the US sanctions, because the inspection would pose no compliance violation.
Trinidad has a bilateral oil spill contingency plan with Venezuela.
Local environmental groups say they fear a catastrophic oil spill. “Fifty-six days after reports of this disaster surfaced, our government continues to drag its feet in addressing this potential environmental catastrophe,” says Fishermen and Friends of the Sea, a Trinidadian environmental group.
“The public has not received any concrete assurances from government officials that the Nabarima is stable and safe.”
By Patricia Garip and Canute James