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U.S. lifts Venezuela-related sanctions imposed on shipping firms, tankers

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Treasury Department on Thursday lifted sanctions on four shipping companies and tankers belonging to them that it said had transported Venezuelan oil this year, following a meeting between U.S. officials and industry representatives.

Washington in June had sanctioned Marshall Islands-based Delos Voyager Shipping Ltd, Sanibel Shiptrade Ltd and Adamant Maritime Ltd, as well as Greece-based Romina Maritime Co Inc, as part of its escalating sanctions on Venezuela aimed at forcing socialist President Nicolas Maduro from power.

It also threatened to blacklist dozens of tankers that had traded with Venezuela, throwing the shipping industry into panic. In response, several companies that owned or operated blacklisted vessels pledged to stop dealing with Venezuela, prompting Washington to lift some sanctions in mid-June.

But several other vessels and shipping firms remained on the sanctions list, so earlier this week U.S. officials met with representatives of Greece’s maritime industry to discuss the Venezuela sanctions, according to three people familiar with the matter.

“They recognized that it is a very toxic moment to do business with Venezuela,” said one of the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks were not public, adding that the companies had pledged not to do more business with Venezuela.

A Treasury representative said the delisted entities had committed to cease involvement in the Venezuelan oil sector as long as Maduro, who is accused of rigging his 2018 re-election, remains in power.

“The primary goal for the imposition of sanctions under OFAC’s various authorities is to promote behavioral change,” the representative said, referring to the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control. “The entities and vessels delisted today credibly showed that they have stopped engaging in sanctionable activities.”

The vessels removed from the U.S. blacklist on Thursday are the Seahero, Voyager I, Delos Voyager and Euroforce oil tankers.

Thenamaris, manager of the Seahero, said it was adapting a “firm policy” against transporting oil from Venezuela, while NGM Energy, manager of the Voyager I, said it had “implemented enhanced compliance controls.”

Washington in January 2019 recognized the leader of Venezuela’s opposition-held National Assembly, Juan Guaido, as the OPEC nation’s rightful leader and has ratcheted up diplomatic pressure and sanctions to try to starve Maduro of revenue.

While those sanctions have prompted a collapse in Venezuela’s oil exports to their lowest levels in 77 years, Maduro remains in power, backed by Venezuela’s military as well as Russia, China and Cuba.

Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis in Washington, Jonathan Saul in London and Marianna Parraga in Mexico City; Additional reporting by Tim Ahmann; Writing by Luc Cohen; editing by Jonathan Oatis

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