February 27, 2020 / 5:24 PM / a month ago

Oil tanker caught in protracted PDVSA-Citgo dispute finally set to leave Venezuela

CARACAS, Feb 27 (Reuters) - A tanker laden with $57 million in crude has discharged its cargo in Venezuela after sitting for more than a year off the country’s coast due to a dispute between the state-run PDVSA oil company and its U.S. unit Citgo Petroleum, according to Refinitiv Eikon data and two shipping sources close to the case.

The Gerd Knutsen, which had been stranded amid fallout over U.S. sanctions on PDVSA, arrived at the company’s Jose oil terminal earlier this month under orders to discharge its crude.

It left the port early on Tuesday after unloading the long-awaited 1-million-barrel cargo and is now anchored in waters north of the oil terminal.

The tanker returned to Venezuela to discharge on the orders of a Caracas criminal court, said John Dalsvag of Norway-based Knutsen Group, which owns the tanker. He said he hoped the tanker would be able to depart for Aruba soon.

Neither PDVSA nor Venezuela’s oil or information ministries immediately responded to requests for comment. Citgo did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“It is on its way to Aruba, it already left,” said one of the shipping sources.

The unloading comes after Houston-based Citgo, now under control of Venezuela’s opposition, sought an order in a Delaware court to block the tanker from returning its cargo to PDVSA. A rival Citgo board linked to President Nicolas Maduro had sent a letter to the captain demanding the legal maneuver.

Washington, which calls Maduro a corrupt dictator who is usurping power after rigging a 2018 presidential election, recognizes opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s rightful president.

The Delaware court ruled that the actions of the Maduro-backed board were legally invalid.

The tanker took several days to complete discharge, Dalsvag said, and an internal PDVSA document seen by Reuters shows that the discharge was halted at one point due to a temporary lack of storage space for diluted crude oil, the type the Gerd Knutsen carried.

Citgo is planning to file an insurance claim for the loss of the oil, the sources said. (Reporting by Luc Cohen in Caracas, Marianna Parraga in Mexico City and Mircely Guanipa in Punto Fijo, Venezuela)

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