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Tuesday, September 25, 2018

INTERTANKO expresses concern over deteriorating situation in Venezuela

As the general strike enters its second week the situation in Venezuela is quickly deteriorating. INTERTANKO is deeply concerned over the safety of navigation and terminal operations in the area.

Called by opposition leaders, who would like to see President Chavez leave office or promise new elections in the first quarter of 2003, the strike commenced on 2 December and has caused major disruption to refinery activity, export shipments and oil output in Venezuela. 90-95% of the PDVSA workforce is reportedly on strike, including senior management, and berthing activity at oil terminals has come to a halt. In efforts to maintain activity, the Venezuelan government has attempted to replace striking workers by inexperienced military personnel and ex-employees. As the strike has been expanded to include pilots, tugs and crew on board PDV Marina controlled tankers, several incidents have been reported where berthing manoeuvres have been undertaken under what appear to be unsafe conditions.

According to sources in Venezuela, the situation is also affecting foreign flag tankers, and there is a risk that Venezuelan ports could be considered ‘unsafe’ due to the lack of properly qualified personnel to carry out support activities. It is known that some foreign owners under charter to PDVSA have already refused to berth at the terminals until the situation has normalised. Owners are also warned that future disputes over payment may arise, as officials may not recognise operations undertaken during the strike as legally binding once the strike is over. Similar episodes were reported after the unrest in April this year.

INTERTANKO has also received a letter from the Chamber of Shipowners of Venezuela describing the situation as chaotic and encouraging members to evaluate safety conditions carefully. On Wednesday night, Admiral Marcial Gonzalez, President of the Venezuelan Institute of Ports, resigned in protest over decisions to dock and load tankers despite warnings from his department that such actions would be in contravention of Venezuelan and international regulations. The Chamber of Shipowners also reminded owners that although it is a signatory to the CLC Convention, Venezuela has a history of arresting and sentencing foreign masters involved in spill incidents under their own national Penal Law of the Environment.

From a legal point of view, the warning from Aurelio Fernández-Concheso of Clyde & Co’s Caracas office is that any attempt to have personnel working on the affected tankers or anywhere in the support chain (including tugs, pilots and terminal operators) replaced by improperly trained staff could increase the risks of accidents and possibly lead to loss of coverage both for the hull and machinery and for P&I, as well as the loss of rights to limited liability in the event of a casualty. We understand that no advice or notice have been issued by insurers so far but that they are monitoring the situation closely.

We encourage members to exercise extreme caution and liase closely with local agents, charterers and their P&I clubs before proceeding to terminals in the area.

Puerto Miranda, La Salina, Amua Bay, Punta Cardon and El Palito are reported to be totally paralysed. Other terminals in the so-called Jose condominium are reported to be working normally although with minimum contingency personnel. Due to the weakening supply of gas, petrochemical plants at Jose and El Tablazo (Maracaibo Lake) are affected and are slowing down production.

An update received on 10 December on the situation at individual terminals can be found under the Ports & Terminals section on our web site.

General: Anders Baardvik,  e-mail:
Ports and Terminals: Steinar Kr. Digre, e-mail: