“An informal network of ship-to-ship transfers has been established in front of Malta in which products are transferred offshore to large oil tankers that are then directed to Venezuelan ports,” said an oil industry source, confirming a report that appeared on Lloyds List.
Venezuelal is 9,000 km from Malta, which is an island located in southern Italy, in the center of the Mediterranean Sea
According to Lloyds List, since June at least 10 chemical tankers or products that made transfers from ship to ship in Maltese waters were tracked.
The cargoes then sailed to Venezuela, in some cases with the transponder of the automatic ship identification system (AIS) off, after heading through the Strait of Gibraltar for the transatlantic voyage.
According to Lloyds List, around 400,000 tons of refined products have been shipped since early June.
Hurds Bank, known for its oil and gas activity, not always legal, is outside territorial waters and is not under the direct jurisdiction of Malta.
However, the US government, aware of the situation, has made informal representations to the Maltese authorities on the matter.
Venezuela, one of the largest oil producers, is currently facing US sanctions on its oil exports as part of President Trump’s efforts to force a regime change in the country.
Last June, the United States extended its sanctions against the oil and petroleum industry of Venezuela by prohibiting companies from exporting or re-exporting diluents to the country. This generally comes in the form of light crude oil or heavy naphtha to dilute the extra heavy crude produced by Venezuela for export.
However, given that the United States has stopped providing Venezuela with this crucial product for its industry, the regime of President Nicolás Maduro has somehow found a way to obtain it through other countries, avoiding the sanctions of the United States.
The origins of petroleum products that are transferred to Venezuelan tankers in Hurds Bank are unknown. Ships often turn off their transponders during operation.
Previous news reports suggested that Russia, which opposes the sanctions, was one of the suppliers. Until last January, when US sanctions were introduced, US companies used to supply Venezuela’s state oil agency with about 50,000 barrels per day of petroleum products.
On the other hand, the United States used to import about 500,000 barrels per day from Venezuela, the largest market in the country.
Exports to and from the United States have now ceased.
Bloomberg reported in July that Venezuela received at least 616,000 barrels of gasoline and 500,000 barrels of vacuum diesel in June and July, and that cargoes had sailed from the port of Taman on the Black Sea to Malta
Lloyds List says that while Venezuela’s oil production is currently at its lowest levels, about 39 tankers have sent crude oil to India this year and another 48 tankers arrived in China.
In total, 198 oil tankers left Venezuela this year until July, which also includes short-distance trips to the Caribbean Islands, where storage facilities and ship-to-ship transfers are also made.