Venezuela Starts Unloading Oil Tanker That Sparked Spill Panic

Venezuela’s national oil company started unloading more than 1 million barrels of oil from a stricken tanker that had sparked fears of a major environmental disaster in the Caribbean.

PDVSA began transferring oil from the FSO Nabarima on Tuesday, according to two people with knowledge of the situation, who declined to be identified discussing internal matters. The cargo is being unloaded onto a barge before being transported to a smaller crude tanker, they said. The operation will take up to two months, with the barge removing 30,000 barrels a day.

Images of the ship tilting to one side in the Gulf of Paria between Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago in October sparked an international outcry and calls for Caracas to take immediate action. Even after a high-profile delegation from Trinidad found the vessel wasn’t at risk of capsizing, environmental groups still warned of the risk of an oil spill that could pollute miles of coastline.

The ship at the center of the rescue effort is a casualty of the Trump administration’s efforts to squeeze the regime of Nicolas Maduro by cutting off his oil revenue. It’s a timely reminder of how Venezuela’s once mighty oil industry has been brought to its knees by sanctions and years of neglect by successive governments before that.

The original purpose of the Nabarima was to load heavy oil from an offshore field operated by Petrosucre, a joint venture between PDVSA and Italy’s Eni SpA.

However, the floating storage unit has been in limbo since the beginning of 2019 after the U.S. targeted Venezuela’s oil industry. Production was halted soon after and no customers have been willing to take its cargo for fear of breaching sanctions. PDVSA and Eni declined to comment.

The Italian company said at the end of October that it had been informed by U.S. authorities that it could unload oil from the FSO Nabarima without running afoul of sanctions. At the time, Eni said it would start removing the oil “upon approval of its plan by PDVSA.” Technical issues had previously delayed the rescue effort.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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