Dueling Venezuelan Administrations Lay Claim to Tanker Cargo

Gerd Knutsen (file image courtesy Knutsen Group)

Published Dec 4, 2019 8:12 PM by The Maritime Executive

The shuttle tanker Gerd Knutsen is stuck in a legal tug of war between the two dueling corporate boards of Venezuelan refiner Citgo. 

Citgo, the U.S.-domiciled, Venezuelan-owned oil refiner, is claimed by both Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and the movement of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido. Both claimants have appointed separate governing boards for the company, and both lay claim to the 950,000 barrels of oil on board the Gerd Knutsen, which has been anchored off Venezuela's coast since January. 

According to Reuters, the Maduro-appointed board wrote to the Knutsen's owner in late November to request the release of the oil to Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA. Shipowner Knutsen Group declined, and the Guaido-appointed board filed suit in a U.S. court on Tuesday to contest the validity of the Maduro-appointed board's request. 

At current pricing for heavy sour crude grades, the Gerd Knutsen's cargo would be worth roughly $50 million, though the available pool of potential buyers could be restricted. Sanctions on the Maduro government and on PDVSA limit the sale of Venezuelan oil. 

Multiple companies, including oil major ConocoPhillips and the Canadian mining company Crystallex, are attempting to seize shares in Citgo as compensation for the expropriation of their assets in Venezuela. Separately, a group of PDVSA bondholders is attempting to take control of Citgo as compensation after Maduro's government defaulted on a bond payment. In keeping with the Trump administration's support for Guaido, the U.S. Treasury has temporarily interceded, blocking creditors' attempts to seize the company from the Venezuelan state until January 22.