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Smuggled Venezuelan crude oil ends up in China after shell game of ship to ship transfers

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the owner of JUDY II as NGM Energy SA.


Caracas - Early in the morning of March 15 while just outside of the territorial waters of Trinidad & Tobago EURODESTINY, a Liberia flagged crude oil tanker turned off her Automatic Identification System (AIS) and sailed west along the Venezuelan coast to Jose Terminal. six days later she reappeared on AIS tracking carrying two million barrels of crude oil and sails towards Port of Spain. After spending about 5 hours at the anchorage she turns around and sails south through the Atlantic, around the horn of Africa eventually arriving at the Malacca strait May 3rd. This was neither the first nor would it be the last effort by the shadowy smuggling network headed by Alex Saab to disguised the origin of this cargo and others like it lifted from Venezuela.

EURODESTINY is owned and operated by Eurotankers based in Greece, a shipping firm that Alex Saab's Libre Abordo & Schlager Business Group have used to smuggle other cargoes in the same way. Alex Saab was arrested June 12th on an Interpol red notice when his private Jet landed in the small African Nation of Cabo Verde where he remains awaiting a judges final decision on if he will be extradited to the U.S.


The EURODESTINY then spent more than 2 months waiting at the Malacca Anchorage while the world grinds to a halt amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Finally from July 12th to 14th EURODESTINY transfers all 2,000,000 million barrels ship to ship to Sao Tome and Principe flagged JUDY II, owned by SADDLEBACK SHIPPING CO, and operated by Zhoushan Xinchi Ship Management Co., Ltd. Then JUDY II takes the cargo and from July 17th to 20th transfers it yet again to another ship also Sao Tome and Principe flagged CERES I. Then on July 21st while sailing north with a stated destination of Ningbo China CERES I turns off the AIS transponder and continues north through the South China Sea, turning the AIS back on today July 27th while off the east coast of Taiwan where they are currently still sailing north.


Jose Terminal - Liberia flagger ADMIRAL owned and operated by Kyoei Tanker of Japan pulled right up to Jose terminal in Venezuela on April 8th before turning off their AIS. On April 20th they turn the AIS back on showing them between Trinidad & Grenada fully loaded with two million barrels of crude oil. They sail around Africa to Malaysia and on June 4th off the north east coast of Singapore start a ship to ship transfer with Liberia flagged ATLANTAS owned by Avid Shipping Services S.A and operated by International Tanker Management Limited. On June 7th the ship to ship transfer finishes and ATLANTAS sails north, on July 22nd the ATLANTAS delivered the cargo of 2,000,000 barrels of crude oil to Huangdao Terminal in Qingdao China.


Gibraltar - The third ship in this saga, also Liberia flagged is the MARION. She departed Gibraltar on March 22nd with a stated destination of St. Lucia. However on April 3rd while still more than 300 nautical miles north east of there her AIS signal became undetectable and didn't return until more than a month later on May 11th when she was already 3500 nautical miles away half way between Trinidad & Tobago and South Africa. Not coincidentally MARION is also now reporting a draft that indicates she is fully loaded with more than two million barrels of crude oil. She continues around the horn of Africa almost reaching Malaysia but turns off her AIS again June 6th while 180 nautical miles off the west coast. only to turn it back on June 24th at the Malacca anchorage. In the mean time on June 21st the same ship ADMIRAL from earlier changes its flag from Liberia to Malta then July 2nd meets up with MARION and starts a ship to ship transfer moving the the cargo of two million barrels of crude oil over the next week. July 9th ADMIRAL updated her draft to indicate she is now fully loaded and sailed past Singapore heading north eventually ending up off the coast of Yantai China where it still is as of publishing.


The 4th ship in the network that visited Venezuela is Liberia flagged PRINCESS MARY, owned and operated by NYK LINE from Japan. On April 23rd while off the coast of Trinidad & Tobago they turned off their AIS and sailed to Venezuela where they picked up a cargo of another 2,000,000 barrels of crude oil. On May 11 PRINCESS MARY turns the AIS back on while once again off the coast of Trinidad & Tobago and she sails to the Malacca strait arriving on June 20th. PRINCESS MARY then spent more than a month waiting, when on July 26th she started transferring the cargo to MARION and is still in the process as of publishing.


The shipping companies involved in smuggling Venezuelan crude often try and explain it away saying they were unaware of the cargo's true origin, however as demonstrated here, these companies lifted these cargo's personally and undertook measures to disguise their action, clearly showing they knew they could be penalized with United States Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) sanctions.


The approximately 8,000,000 barrels of crude oil I tracked for this article have a conservative value of $20 per barrel making the cargo's worth at least $160,000,000. That could buy a lot of food for hungry Venezuelans but I suspect it will end up in Swiss bank accounts, or Miami real estate instead.


Written with information and graphics from MarineTraffic.com & LaPatilla.com