Venezuela Fuel Shortages Get Worse as Tanker Staff Flee

(Bloomberg) -- Venezuela’s fuel shortages are worsening as mass resignations at the state oil company’s tanker fleet have delayed gasoline shipments.

Petroleos de Venezuela SA’s refineries are running at less than a quarter of their capacity, forcing the country to rely on imported gasoline. Once the cargoes are unloaded at import docks, smaller ships distribute fuel to terminals along the coast, where its loaded on trucks to refuel inland stations. But as Venezuelan tankers lose engineers and helmsmen, delivery delays are becoming increasingly frequent, according to people with knowledge of the situation.

Gasoline lines are one of the challenges of daily life in Venezuela, along with the scarcity of basic goods, regular power outages and a lack of public transport. Gas prices are still the among the cheapest in the world, with the black market rate earlier this month less than one cent per gallon. Maduro has yet to increase prices after vowing to do so at the end of September.

Resignations and requests for leave by personnel at PDV Marina, the oil company’s shipping affiliate, are reducing the tankers’ crews to a minimum, according to a document seen by Bloomberg. At least 11 tankers are affected, and minimal staffing is hindering PDVSA’s ability to deliver on time, the document shows. Venezuela’s Oil Ministry and PDVSA officials declined to comment.

“Tankers are now delayed all the time,” PDVSA union leader Gregorio Rodriguez said from Puerto La Cruz.“The situation is worse in cities far from distribution centers, where the truck fleet service is also shaky, as is eastern Venezuela.”

Venezuela’s sliding oil production is exacerbating an already dramatic fiscal deficit, as the country is behind on almost $7 billion owed to debt investors and is handing over barrels of crude to settle outstanding loans.

A document written by PDVSA’s Commerce and Supply Security Department described poor working conditions and lack of security equipment, food or safe lodging on the tankers. Tankers Caura and Guanoco have no officers left on board; three other tankers are missing a first engineer; two other ships are now indefinitely anchored in Portugal and Bonaire.

Wages diluted by hyperinflation -- now running at an annual pace of 187,400 percent according to Bloomberg’s Cafe Con Leche Index -- are pushing personnel to leave the country, said Luis Diaz, a tugboat worker at PDV Marina in Puerto La Cruz.

“More than 100 employees, among them captains, officers, machine engineers and deck assistants, threatened PDVSA two weeks ago with mass resignation if they don’t fix our payscales,” Diaz said.

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