(Adds Citgo statement on court decision)
By Marianna Parraga and Sailu Urribarri
May 23 (Reuters) - A court in Aruba on Wednesday lifted liens on two oil cargoes put in place by ConocoPhillips as part of a legal strategy to enforce a $2 billion arbitration decision, the latest reversal for the U.S. oil firm’s collection efforts.
In April, the International Chamber of Commerce awarded Conoco compensation for the 2007 nationalization of two of its projects in Venezuela. The oil firm since has moved aggressively to seize oil inventories, assets and cargoes tied to Venezuela’s state-run PDVSA, which uses the Caribbean as an export hub.
But in recent days, courts in Curacao, Bonaire and Aruba have completely or partially lifted the attachments, mainly citing the potential for economic harm to the economies of the islands, which are dependent on PDVSA’s refined products.
Aruba’s Court of the First Instance said the owner of a crude cargo and a fuel cargo off Aruba was not Venezuela’s state-run PDVSA but its U.S. refining subsidiary, Citgo Petroleum.
Citgo said in a statement on the court decision that the crude and refined products were its property and the vessels “will now continue to their intended destinations.”
Since 2016, a unit of Citgo has leased from the island’s government the 209,000-barrel-per-day Aruba refinery and a 13-million-barrel terminal mostly used to store crude for feeding the subsidiary’s U.S. Gulf of Mexico refineries.
About 800,000 barrels of Venezuelan crude and imported gasoline, jet fuel and diesel on the tankers Atlantic Lily and Grimstad were seized earlier this month through a court order requested by Conoco. The fuel was for domestic distribution.
Conoco brushed off Wednesday’s court decision as a temporary setback to its legal strategy of pursuing PDVSA assets around the world to satisfy its ICC award. The company has previously said it was evaluating PDVSA assets in Asia, Europe and the Caribbean.
“We have expected the process of recovery could take some time,” Conoco spokesman Daren Beaudo said in statement. “As we have said, we intend to pursue all available legal avenues to obtain full and fair compensation.”
PDVSA and Citgo are responsible for supplying Curacao’s state-owned Curoil NV and other fuel distributors in Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire.
Aruba’s Prime Minister Evelyn Wever-Croes last week said no fuel shortages had been reported, but officials were trying to line up imports from other sources.
In Curacao, a court order seizing PDVSA’s crude and fuel inventories at the 335,000-barrel-per-day Isla refinery was partially lifted earlier this month to allow Curoil to continue receiving and distributing fuel. Proceeds from the permitted fuel deliveries will be deposited into an escrow account until the Conoco-PDVSA dispute is ultimately resolved, the court ordered.
In Bonaire, PDVSA’s BOPEC oil terminal also was seized but Conoco allowed Curoil to have access to fuel inventories there to continue to supply a local utility. (Reporting by Sailu Urribarri and Marianna Parraga; Editing by James Dalgleish and Grant McCool)