CARACAS, Sept 3 (Reuters) - Venezuela's state oil company PDVSA said on Saturday it had taken operational control of six barges in Lake Maracaibo after a contract expired with Houston-based oilfield services company Schlumberger NV and added it would guarantee employment for the 358 workers involved.
In a statement, PDVSA said that the barges were used to drill and repair wells in Lake Maracaibo, a traditional hub of oil production, and that the workers had received severance pay from Schlumberger, the former operator of the vessels.
PDVSA neither specified who owned the barges nor when it assumed their operational control.
In April, Schlumberger said it would reduce activity in the South American OPEC nation, which accounted for less than 5 percent of the company's consolidated revenue last year, due to insufficient payments and no improvements on this front on the horizon.
But PDVSA in its communique said that Schlumberger, was "far from withdrawing operations in Venezuela" and was interested in new projects in the country.
One on them, a new drilling project in the Carabobo block of the heavy-crude Orinoco Belt, is scheduled to start at the end of this month, PDVSA said.
Schlumberger was also seeking involvement in two of the largest projects PDVSA was running to reactivate more than a thousand wells in both the Lake Maracaibo and Orinoco Belt regions, the Venezuelan state oil company said.
Earlier this week, Ivan Freites, an oil union leader and fierce PDVSA critic, said some 600 workers are being fired in Zulia state, whose capital is Maracaibo, and 2,000 workers are being let go nationally, as a result of Schlumberger's reduction of operations.
PDVSA has run up billions of dollars in unpaid bills to service providers as a result of cash-flow problems amid a deep recession.
U.S. oil services company Halliburton Co in April also said it would begin curtailing activity in Venezuela. (Reporting by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Diego Ore and W Simon)