Russia, China & Turkey continues to assist Venezuelan regime with impunity.
In late March Rosneft Oil Company finally gave in to the U.S. Office of Foreign Asset Control sanctions targeting them for doing business with Venezuela's nationalized oil industry. Petróleos de Venezuela SA, the Venezuelan state-owned oil and natural gas company’s dwindling output and a crude oil price that had fallen through the floor meant the profits were not sufficient to expose the company to further risk. Rosneft, a Russian integrated energy company headquartered in Moscow had extensive dealings with PDVSA for years and was reportedly assisting them to continue operations at their Amuay, Cardon & El Palito refineries.
Despite this Russia is still turning a blind eye to other companies that are continuing to do business in Venezuela’s oil industry. On May 27, the Venezuelan government in a gambit to avoid sanctions on their Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC) the Ayacucho, changed its flag to Russia and renamed it the Maksim Gorky. While still owned by Venezuela the management company was changed to Transocean Shipping Co Ltd. based in Moscow Russia, it's the only ship in their management fleet.
Built in 2013 by China’s Bohai Shipbuilding Heavy Industry Co, the tanker is 332 meters long, 60 meters wide, and is capable of carrying about two million barrels of oil. Back in February 2019 US OFAC sanctions were applied to the Ayacucho and nearly two dozen other tankers as part of its policy of denying the illegitimate regime in Caracas or those who aid them access to the U.S. financial system.
Now named the Maksim Gorky the ship spent several months in the area around Jose Terminal as the COVID-19 pandemic took over the world. One of the effects of the pandemic on the oil industry was the demand for crude oil to dried up and so many tankers spent several months sitting in port or at anchor. On September 3rd they finally set sail from Venezuela and headed south into the Atlantic Ocean and past South Africa. However here the ship diverted from the typical route taken by tankers heading to Singapore and instead took a route around Indonesia with a stop at Cilacap Anchorage. It is possible the intention was to pick up or drop off crew, but this stop warrants further investigation.
After departing the Cilacap Anchorage the Maksim Gorky turned their AIS off numerous times when approaching Singapore and left it off for the final 72 hours of the journey. Again after arriving at the anchorage near Singapore they turned off their AIS this time for about a week. It is likely during this time the crude oil was unloaded by ship to ship transfer with an ultimate destination of China.
Another example is Russian flagged Pavinospirit owned and operated by Pavino-Tanker Ltd also based in Russia. This chemical / oil products tanker loaded an unknown cargo at the terminal in Tuzla Turkey before sailing on August 20 with a stated destination of Gibraltar. This is a common destination posted on AIS systems from ships that would rather not disclose where they are really going. Eventually the Pavinospirit sailed past Gibraltar and crossed the Atlantic, turning their AIS transponder off as the entered the Caribbean on September 23rd and leaving it off until they were sailing south past Brazil on October 13th. In the time in between the ship delivered its cargo to Venezuela and loaded up Venezuelan oil products to export opening themselves up to the risk of OFAC sanctions. Currently the Pavinospirit is south west of Madagascar heading towards Malaysia / Singapore.
China's demand for crude oil is quickly returning to normal and is predicted to rise significantly in 2021 as new refineries come online. After seeing the success of Iran in shipping oil products to and from Venezuela using vessels under the Iranian flag it looks like China is planning the same with these 2 ships. The Junin & Boyaca both sailed around Africa and have a stated destination of Aruba, a common destination for ships really heading to Venezuela less than 20 miles to the south.
Russia also continues to be involved in the transfer of payments for these fuel / oil products shipments, with frequent cargo plane visits that have been documented to coincide with massive decreases in the Venezuelan Central banks gold assets on hand. The most recent example of this was yesterday when an E-Cargo jet arrived by way of Bamako Mali in West Africa and returned by the same route ultimately arriving in Moscow early today.
While the sanctions are making it more difficult for the Venezuelan regime and their allies to operate, clearly more proactive measures are needed to stop the transfer of wealth out of the county.
Written By: Simon Bolivar