PUNTO FIJO, Venezuela (Reuters) - Venezuela’s state-run oil company PDVSA said on Thursday it has not halted business with maritime contractor Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM), after the German firm notified it would remove crews operating 10 of 15 PDVSA vessels over unpaid fees and return the tankers.
PDVSA’s maritime arm PDV Marina declared an emergency on Tuesday due to lack of staff to immediately receive the vessels that BSM proposed to return to Venezuelan ports due to unpaid bills of at least $15 million.
The vessels - Nereo, Proteo, Zeus, Hero, Eos, Teseo, Rio Caroni, Rio Apure, Rio Orinoco and Arita - had BSM crews onboard on Thursday, a source from the company said, adding that payment is being negotiated with PDVSA.
Three other vessels operated by BSM for PDVSA remain anchored in Portugal and Curacao until the resolution of legal disputes linked to fees that PDVSA owes to maritime agencies, port authorities and shipyards.
“Our subsidiary PDV Marina continues working with BSM... PDV Marina offers maritime transportation of hydrocarbons and tug boat services, reaching satisfactory daily rates,” it said via a Twitter post.
PDVSA did not elaborate on its plans to operate the returned vessels. BSM had no immediate comment on the returns of the vessels.
PDVSA’s financial problems are complicating the state-run firm’s ability to hire 160 captains, machinists and operators needed to operate the 10 vessels, the source said. PDVSA is offering to pay staff in Bolivars.
“PDV Marina does not have staff enough for all the vessels. That is not new. PDVSA owes everybody money, even its own crew,” said a tanker inspector in Venezuela who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation.
BSM operates a fleet of 15 PDVSA vessels, including eight Aframaxes mostly used for moving oil between Venezuela’s domestic ports and the Caribbean; four Suezmaxes previously serving export destinations but recently also navigating Venezuelan waters; the Aframax Arita covering routes to Asia; and two very large crude carriers jointly owned by PDVSA and PetroChina.
The German company’s crew last month abandoned two vessels anchored in Portugal - the Rio Arauca and the Parnaso - after keeping staff aboard for more than 20 months. The firm has said legal responsibility for the vessels rests with the arresting parties.
Over a dozen tankers with Venezuelan oil around the world have been arrested by authorities in recent years or otherwise prevented from sailing because PDVSA has not been able to pay for operation, hull cleaning, inspections, and other services.
Reporting by Mircely Guanipa in Punto Fijo, Vivian Sequera in Caracas, Marianna Parraga in Mexico City and Catarina Demony in Lisbon; Editing by David Gregorio and Marguerita Choy