Venezuela's PDVSA says it is still working with German shipping firm BSM

March 7 (Reuters) - Venezuela’s state-run oil company PDVSA said on Thursday it has not halted business with maritime firm Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM), even after the German firm said it would remove the crews that have been operating 10 of 15 PDVSA vessels over unpaid fees and return the tankers.

On Tuesday, PDVSA’s maritime arm PDV Marina declared an emergency due to lack of staff to immediately receive the 10 vessels BSM proposed to return to Venezuelan ports due to unpaid bills of at least $15 million.

Three other vessels that had been operated by BSM for PDVSA remain anchored in Portugal and Curacao until the resolution of legal disputes linked to fees that PDVSA owes to maritime agencies, port authorities and shipyards.

“Our subsidiary PDV Marina continues working with BSM... PDV Marina offers maritime transportation of hydrocarbons and tug boat services, reaching satisfactory daily rates,” it said via a Twitter post.

PDVSA did not elaborate on its plans to operate the returned vessels. BSM spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment.

The German firm operates a fleet of 15 PDVSA vessels, including 8 Aframaxes mostly used for moving oil between Venezuela’s domestic ports and the Caribbean; four Suezmaxes previously serving export destinations but recently also navigating Venezuelan waters; the Aframax Arita covering routes to Asia; and two very large crude carriers jointly owned by PDVSA and PetroChina.

The German company’s crew last month abandoned two vessels anchored in Portugal - the Rio Arauca and the Parnaso - after keeping staff aboard for more than 20 months. The firm has said legal responsibility for the vessels rests with the arresting parties.

Over a dozen tankers with Venezuelan oil around the world have been arrested by authorities in recent years or otherwise prevented from sailing because PDVSA has not been able to pay for operation, hull cleaning, inspections, and other services.

Venezuela’s congress chief Juan Guaido on Wednesday urged Europe to tighten financial sanctions against the government of Nicolas Maduro after it expelled Germany’s ambassador this week. Maduro’s administration has been severely sanctioned since late January as the United States and dozens of other nations have recognized Guaido as the nation’s leader. (Reporting by Vivian Sequera, writing by Marianna Parraga; Editing by David Gregorio)