Four tankers carrying over two million barrels of US crude are stuck at sea and cannot discharge at a Caribbean terminal because Venezuela’s state oil company has not yet paid supplier BP.
The cargoes are part of a tender Petroleos de Venezuela, known as PDVSA, awarded in March to BP and China Oil.
The deal was to import some 8 million barrels of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude so Venezuela could dilute its extra heavy crudes and feed its Caribbean refineries.
While three cargoes for this tender were delivered in April, seven other vessels, including BP’s four hired ones, are waiting to discharge, leaving up to 3.85 million barrels of WTI in limbo, according to news agency Reuters.
PDVSA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Its cash prolems, which also affected its oil imports late last year, have added to a backlog of tankers since March due to malfunctioning loading arms at Jose, Venezuela’s main crude port.
PDVSA initially offered to pay for the imports with Venezuelan oil, but negotiations for those swaps failed as the proposed loading windows and crude grades did not work for BP, according to Reuters sources.
The state oil firm has delayed payments to suppliers since 2015 as it has reacted to low crude prices, declining exports and recession. As a result, service firms including Schlumberger, Halliburton and Petrex have curtailed operations in the OPEC country.
The payment delays are also raising questions about who will pay for demurrage, or the daily costs for delays. Three of the BP tankers have been anchored for over 30 days.
As China already lifts Venezuelan crude as part of broader oil-for-loans deals, its companies have agreed on swaps for this tender, the sources said.
Issues with loading arms to receive tankers at Jose port have doubled wait times for shippers since March.
PDVSA said in a statement that installation of replacement equipment in the port’s southern dock were successfully concluded on Tuesday.
Some 30 dirty tankers are currently waiting around PDVSA’s ports in Venezuela and Curacao.
PDVSA has become one of the largest buyers of US crude since last month even with a narrow arbitrage that makes most exports unattractive, analysts have said, but payment delays could stymie its bid to continue imports.