PUNTO FIJO, Venezuela, Sept 12 (Reuters) - Three vessels suspected of smuggling subsidized fuel from Venezuela’s refinery-rich Paraguana peninsula were detained this week by the country’s navy, a local commander said on Saturday.
Sources told Reuters on Monday that seven people had been arrested for allegedly attempting to smuggle diesel in a tanker owned by state oil company PDVSA.
Admiral Andres Gomez, commander of a local navy unit, confirmed tanker ‘Negra Hipolita’ was found with an excess load of 50,000 barrels of diesel fuel at the Cardon refinery.
Two additional vessels, both from Panama, were detained this week by the Venezuelan navy, also on smuggling suspicions, Gomez added. It was not immediately clear when they were apprehended.
PDVSA did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
An entire tank of heavily-subsidized gasoline in Venezuela costs less than one U.S. cent at the black market exchange rate, fomenting lucrative smuggling to neighboring countries, where it sells for near international market prices.
Vessel ‘Mario G’, chartered by PDVSA, was detained at the Amuay oil refinery with an excess of 1,018 barrels of fuel, worth over $186,000, said Gomez.
‘Paola Valentina,’ meanwhile, was detained for carrying 4,000 litres of gasoil without the correct invoices, among other anomalies, he added.
Nine people were detained, seven in the case of the ‘Negra Hipolita.’
The arrests come as President Nicolas Maduro seeks to crack down on smuggling in contraband-rife Venezuela. He has closed several busy border crossings with Colombia in recent weeks.
The closures have cut fuel consumption in the western border states of Tachira and Zulia by seven million liters per day, according to PDVSA president Eulogio del Pino.
Stella Lugo, governor of the state of Falcon where the three vessels were detained, said she would present a security plan to Maduro to combat smuggling in the coastal area.
Authorities in January arrested an oil ministry official charged with overseeing the domestic fuel market for alleged irregularities associated with gasoline distribution. (Writing by Girish Gupta; Editing by Alexandra Ulmer and Diane Craft)