(Adds Curacao’s prime minister reaction, NuStar comment)
By Marianna Parraga
May 8 (Reuters) - Venezuela’s state-run oil company PDVSA suspended oil storage and shipping from its Caribbean facilities following a move by ConocoPhillips to temporarily seize the firm’s assets on four islands, according to a PDVSA source and Reuters data.
PDVSA has begun concentrating most shipping in its main crude terminal of Jose on Venezuela’s eastern coast and recalling tankers to Venezuelan waters to avoid seizures that would further cut its exports and wound an economy on the verge of collapse.
U.S.-based Conoco is attaching PDVSA’s international assets to enforce a $2 billion arbitration award in April on the nationalization of the firm’s projects in Venezuela in 2007.
“We are no longer storing or shipping oil from the Caribbean islands. We are now mostly depending on Jose,” the PDVSA source said.
PDVSA last year shipped over 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude and refined products from five owned and leased facilities on Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao and St. Eustatius, according to internal company data. The terminals handled around 24 percent of its total exports.
A potential lack of crude at Curacao’s 335,000-bpd Isla refinery, operated by PDVSA, could force the facility to halt operations, the island’s Prime Minister Eugene Rhuggenaath told Reuters, adding that it would import fuel if necessary, even though no assets have yet been seized on the island.
“We are aware of the potential risks for the operation of the refinery,” he said. “A stoppage of the operation would have a devastating impact economically and socially.”
PDVSA has not responded to requests for comment.
Dutch authorities, which have oversight on the islands, declined to comment, calling it a matter between two private companies.
PDVSA’s U.S. refining unit Citgo Petroleum also uses the Aruba terminal to discharge, store and blend Venezuelan and foreign crudes for its refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Conoco has attached at least 4.8 million barrels of PDVSA’s stored crude and fuel oil in the islands of Bonaire and St. Eustatius, according to shippers and the PDVSA source, a fraction of the terminals’ total capacity of 53 million barrels.
In St. Eustatius, Conoco’s legal action is being studied by the Statia terminal’s operator, the U.S. firm NuStar Energy , the company said on Tuesday.
“We are still assessing our commercial and legal options, but we have not filed any legal motions at this time,” it said.
A Conoco spokesman declined to comment on Tuesday.
Earlier this week, the U.S. company said it would continue to pursue PDVSA’s assets while trying to enforce the arbitration award.
In Venezuela, cargoes arriving from the Caribbean have begun creating bottlenecks of vessels around Jose and the docks that serve PDVSA’s biggest refinery, the Paraguana Refining Center (CRP), according to the data.
As Jose and the CRP receive a larger number of tankers, Venezuela’s ports of Bajo Grande and Puerto Miranda, which ship most of the country’s Western region crudes, have been operating under restrictions since last year due to frequent leaks that affect vessels docking there.
Oil leaks, lack of money for importing spare parts and a growing brain drain are affecting Venezuela’s ports, refineries and oilfields. The OPEC-member country’s crude exports fell 29 percent in the first quarter compared with the same period of 2017 to 1.19 million bpd, according to Reuters data.
On Monday night, PDVSA ordered the Aframax tanker British Cygnet, which was waiting to discharge in Curacao, to divert to Venezuelan waters, according to a shipper and Reuters data.
The vessel had loaded crude at Russia’s Primorsk terminal last month and arrived in Curacao’s Bullenbay terminal on Sunday, two days after at least two courts ordered the retention of PDVSA’s inventories and facilities in the Caribbean at the request of Conoco.
PDVSA has been buying U.S. and Russian crudes this year for refining at its Isla refinery in Curacao and for blending with extra-heavy oil from the Orinoco Belt, Venezuela’s main producing region.
The British Cygnet follows at least nine vessels diverted since Friday from Curacao and Bonaire to Venezuela and Cuba to avoid possible seizures of tankers or their barrels, according to the PDVSA source and Reuters data. (Reporting by Marianna Parraga in Houston, Corina Rodriguez and Brian Ellsworth in Caracas; additional reporting by Gary McWilliams in Houston and Bart Meijer in Amsterdam; editing by David Gregorio, Grant McCool and G Crosse)