(Reuters) - Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA is struggling to deal with mounting crude stocks as Russian energy giant Rosneft has not confirmed yet whether it would lift cargoes this month following tougher U.S. sanctions, according to data and sources with knowledge of the situation.
Rosneft’s Geneva-based unit Rosneft Trading SA was sanctioned last month by the United States for acting as an intermediary for sales of Venezuelan crude to clients in Asia while hiding its country of origin. The U.S. Treasury set a May 20 deadline for companies to wind down operations with the firm.
Following the U.S. Treasury’s announcement, trading house Trafigura AG said it would suspend business with the sanctioned Rosneft unit, complicating its trade transactions.
Rosneft Trading and another Rosneft unit, TNK Trading, last year took more than one-third of Venezuela’s oil exports, mostly for resale to Asian buyers, becoming the largest intermediaries for PDVSA’s oil, according to PDVSA documents and Refinitiv Eikon vessel tracking data.
In recent days, however, uncertainty over crude cargoes due to be taken by Rosneft in March has left several vessels anchored off Venezuelan waters awaiting instructions, according to the data and sources.
The delays are creating new obstacles for PDVSA to store production of its flagship grade for exports, Merey 16 heavy crude, the data showed.
Venezuela’s overall crude inventories increased this week by about 1 million barrels to 35.2 million barrels, breaking five months of consecutive decline, according to figures from market intelligence firm Kpler.
“Nobody wants to take the cargoes. We are full of Merey (crude oil) and Rosneft has not confirmed cargoes we have offered to them,” said a PDVSA executive, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.
“They are not even replying to emails,” the source added.
PDVSA and Rosneft did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
If it continues, the rise in stocks could impact Venezuela’s oil output. PDVSA was forced to reduce production last year when crude inventories reached a peak of 39.8 million barrels after secondary sanctions announced by Washington in August caused the suspension of direct supply contracts between PDVSA and Chinese companies CNPC and PetroChina.
The storage crisis eased as Rosneft and others stepped in to act as intermediaries for sales.
PDVSA’s loading schedule for its main terminal of Jose this month looked partially empty with only seven cargoes confirmed for loading as of March 4.
About half of the nominated vessels are waiting for directions while anchored off Trinidad and in the Caribbean sea, according to the Eikon data.
Merey 16 crude is produced by PDVSA and its joint ventures in Venezuela’s largest oil region, the Orinoco Belt, by blending extra heavy and lighter crude. Rosneft has been the main receiver of this grade since Washington imposed the toughest sanctions yet on PDVSA a year ago.
Very large crude carriers (VLCCs) Maria Angelicoussis and HRA, chartered by Rosneft’s units to load Venezuelan oil this month, were anchored off Trinidad as of March 6.
The vessels Dragon and Chios I, also chartered by Rosneft, had their transponder off, according to the Eikon vessel tracking data.
Reporting by Marianna Parraga, additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Diane Craft