(Adds detail on export levels so far in March in paragraph 8)
By Luc Cohen and Marianna Parraga
March 23 (Reuters) - At least two cargoes of Venezuelan crude have been delayed due to health inspections aboard tankers to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, according to an internal document from state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela seen by Reuters.
The delays add to a growing glut of tankers loaded with Venezuelan crude that preceded the coronavirus crisis as U.S. sanctions spooked potential customers. With domestic onshore oil inventories approaching capacity, PDVSA has been increasingly forced to send barrels onto floating storage.
The largest shipment affected by the health measures is the Delta Angelica tanker, which was originally scheduled to depart Venezuela’s Jose terminal between March 19-21 with 1.9 million barrels of heavy Merey crude bound for India’s Reliance Industries, according to the document.
The vessel was “anchored to comply with preventative sanitary measures related to Covid-19,” the document read, referring to the new coronavirus. It was still anchored at Jose on Monday and had not finished loading, according to Refinitiv Eikon data.
The Icaria tanker, which was scheduled to load 1 million barrels of Merey crude for Mexico’s Schlager Business Group between March 15-17, was also awaiting a health inspection, according to the document.
Neither PDVSA nor Venezuela’s oil ministry responded to requests for comment.
The export delays mark a further threat to cash-strapped PDVSA, which is struggling to cope with a plunge in crude prices in recent weeks that has decreased the value of Venezuelan oil. Venezuela, which has reported 77 cases of the coronavirus, is under nationwide quarantine.
The country’s exports have averaged around 795,000 barrels per day (bpd) in the first three weeks of March, down from 1.046 million bpd in February, according to PDVSA documents and Refinitiv Eikon data. That means March is on track to be PDVSA’s worst month in terms of exports since August 2019.
U.S. sanctions aimed at forcing out socialist President Nicolas Maduro have limited PDVSA’s pool of customers. Washington has in the past two months sanctioned Rosneft Trading and TNK Trading, two units of Russian state oil company Rosneft for serving as intermediaries for Venezuelan crude.
Two tankers intended for TNK Trading and one intended for Rosneft Trading that were supposed to load with Venezuelan oil in late February have not yet docked at Jose port in Venezuela while waiting for directions from the tankers’ owners, according to the document.
Two of the vessels were empty, anchored at the Caribbean sea and a third had its satellite off on Monday, according to Refinitiv Eikon data. No Rosneft entity has lifted crude from Venezuelan ports since February.
PDVSA in mid-March loaded some 500,000 barrels of Merey 16 onto floating storage, the document shows, a sign that the company is running out of places to store or sell its crude and could be forced to reduce oil production soon. (Reporting by Luc Cohen and Marianna Parraga Editing by Marguerita Choy and David Gregorio)