February 28, 2020 / 2:12 PM / a month ago

UPDATE 2-Citgo says Venezuelan military forced oil tanker into port to discharge

(New throughout, adds details on military escort)

CARACAS, Feb 28 (Reuters) - U.S. refiner Citgo Petroleum Corp on Friday said the Venezuelan military forced a tanker carrying its oil to port at Jose Terminal near Puerto La Cruz, providing new details on a $57 million oil cargo it lost after held at sea for more than a year.

The Gerd Knutsen oil tanker this week finished discharging 960,000 barrels of crude oil claimed both by the company and its Venezuelan parent, state-run oil firm PDVSA.

The vessel departed Venezuela’s Jose Terminal on Thursday and entered international waters on Friday morning, the refiner said.

The tanker was “forcibly escorted by a military vessel” into port so the cargo could be transferred to PDVSA, Citgo said. The captain earlier was ordered to make the transfer under threat of criminal penalties, including jail.

Neither the Venezuelan Armed Forces Strategic Operational Command nor the Information Ministry immediately responded to requests for comment.

Citgo said it will continue efforts to collect losses from Venezuela and “any entities that may have assisted it.” Spokespeople did not reply to requests for details.

The tanker had been stranded for over a year off the South American country’s coast amid fallout over U.S. sanctions on PDVSA that are designed to force out socialist President Nicolas Maduro.

Citgo “repeatedly directed” the Gerd Knutsen to bring it the oil during its year-long stay off the coast, but was rebuffed. The local harbormaster would not clear the vessel to depart, it said.

Now controlled by the Venezuelan opposition, Citgo had sought a U.S. court order to block the tanker from returning its cargo to PDVSA. The refiner has dueling boards, one appointed by the Venezuelan opposition that is recognized by the Court of Chancery in the U.S. state of Delaware, and another appointed by Venezuelan officials.

The Gerd Knuntsen is now sailing toward the Caribbean island of Aruba, according to Refinitiv Eikon data. (Reporting by Luc Cohen in Caracas and Gary McWilliams in Houston; Editing by David Gregorio)

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