Cuban-Venezuelan oil shipping JV launches second tanker

Eric Watkins
OGJ Oil Diplomacy Editor

LOS ANGELES, May 15 -- Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA) said Transportes del Alba (TransAlba), the joint Venezuelan-Cuban oil shipping line, has received its second vessel, the 490,000 bbl capacity tanker, Sandino.

"The vessel Sandino is vital to the development of the peoples of Latin America, since it strengthens sovereignty in transporting energy throughout the hemisphere," said Asdrubal Chavez, PDVSA vice-president for refining and trade.

The tanker, built in China by New Times Shipbuilding Co., is the second of two 72,700-dwt ships funded under a 15-year, $122 million credit extended by Venezuela's state-run national economic and social development bank Bandes.

In February, TransAlba acquired its first tanker, the 72,700-dwt Petion, which will transport crude from Venezuela's Puerto La Cruz refinery to Cuba's Camilo Cienfuegos refinery.

At the time, PDVSA said, "This ship will generate savings in shipping payments and increase guarantees with respect to the transport and supply of hydrocarbons to the region" (OGJ Online, Feb. 25, 2009).

Chavez underlined that point this week, saying the two ships will generate savings of $30-50 million/year in addition to ensuring the region's energy security and sovereignty.

The JV partners are considering the purchase of a third, smaller tanker to secure access to Central American ports, which have less draft and storage capacity than other ports in the region.

Meanwhile, according to Fernando Padron, general manager for PDVSA Refinacion Oriente, the Sandino left Venezuela on May 12 bound for the import terminal of Cuba's Camilo Cienfuegos refinery.

Padron said the Sandino carried the same cargo as the Petion: 390,000 bbl of Mesa 28, which he described as a light crude. According to Padron, traffic at Refinacion Oriente's export terminal will increase by at least eight monthly departures due to the new ships.

Acquisition of the second ship follows a report in April by the Washington, DC-based Brookings Institute, which urged the US government to aid Cuba in diversifying its suppliers away from Venezuela.

"Two thirds of Cuba's petroleum demand currently relies on imports, and Venezuela is the single source of these imports under heavily subsidized terms," said Brookings's energy advisor Jorge Pinon.

"This petroleum dependence is valued at $3 billion and could be used by Venezuela as a tool to influence a Cuban government in maintaining an antagonistic position toward the US," Pinon said.

Cuban firm Internacional Maritima and PDVSA's Cuban subsidiary PDVSA Cuba each hold a 50% stake in TransAlba.

Contact Eric Watkins at hippalus@yahoo.com.

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