15 SEPT 2020
An Iranian VLCC has arrived at Venezuela’s José petroleum terminal carrying two million barrels of condensate, defying U.S. sanctions on both nations. The vessel’s original name and IMO number appear to have been painted over, and she has begun broadcasting the name Honey over AIS.
Lightweight condensate (drip gas) is typically used as a diluent in Venezuela, enabling the production, transport and sale of PDVSA’s extra-heavy crude oil. Without blending with lighter grades, Venezuela’s Orinoco bituminous oil has a tarlike consistency, making it difficult to handle or refine. U.S. sanctions on PDVSA have left Venezuela without ready access to diluents, production equipment, spare parts or tanker capacity, and Venezuelan oil exports have plummeted to a small fraction of historical levels. Bloomberg identified the condensate cargo as Venezuela’s first non-refined diluent import since April 2019.
Condensate is highly flammable, and while it is routinely carried in quantity, it comes with an elevated risk of fire relative to heavier crude oil. In 2018, the Iranian tanker Sanchi collided with a bulker and caught fire with a cargo of condensate on board. She burned furiously for days, then sank with the loss of all hands. TankerTrackers.com, which confirmed the Honey’s arrival in Venezuela on Sunday, pointed to the Sanchi accident to illustrate the dangers of operating a VLCC full of condensate with AIS turned off.
Three cargoes of refined gasoline are also under way for Venezuela aboard Iranian-flagged product tankers. Four previous gasoline cargoes aboard commercially-operated, foreign-flagged tankers failed to arrive because the fuel was seized by the United States government.